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John VERRALL (1908-2001)
Horn sonata [9:59]
Halsey STEVENS (1908-1989)
Horn sonata [14:06]
Paul TUFTS (1924-2004)
Horn sonata [19:06]
Christopher Leuba (horn)
Kevin Aanerud (piano)
Originally released in 1977. AAD.
Notes included.
CRYSTAL RECORDS CD372 [43:25]

Besides the French Horn, another factor unites Christopher Leuba and the three composers featured on this disc, originally released in 1977. Leuba, Paul Taft, and John Verrall all served on the music faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Halsey Stevens was a visiting professor there in 1958. So, there is a definite feeling of camaraderie in the performances on this disc.

Christopher Leuba started with the then Minneapolis Symphony, then became first horn with the Chicago Symphony, and then went back to Minneapolis, also playing in the Philharmonia Hungarica on occasion. He then started a long-term academic career at the University as well as being a member of the Soni Ventorum Wind Quintet. He had a very warm tone, with a solid foundation, and was able to play in the higher register without becoming strident. These factors serve him well in John Verrall’s sonata. The frequent scale passages of the Pastoral are well-suited to Leuba’s talents. The succeeding Nocturne is much sparer than its predecessor and Leuba produces the appropriate mixture of hollow and heartfelt sounds. The final Vivace thrives on little flourishes for the horn until the movement opens out to more legato passages which give Leuba a chance to his middle range. There is a charming coda. Nb. This is Verrall’s first sonata for horn, dating from 1942 and not the Fantasy Sonata of 1976, which is dedicated to Christopher Leuba.

As said above Halsey Stevens only visited the University of Washington, but he is definitely a West Coast composer like Verrall and Tufts, having spent more than thirty years at the University of Southern California. Not only was his music widely played in his lifetime but he was a frequently sought-after lecturer and the author of the standard work in English on Bartok. His sonata dates from 1953 and starts with a vigorous first theme, followed by a pensive second one and these two are combined into material of some nobility, which Leuba handles forcefully, as well as demonstrating his low notes. The slow movement has a flow that reminded me of the music of Roy Harris, especially his Symphony No. 7, written at about the same time as this sonata. Leuba is very good at bringing out this American tone as well as the plaintiveness of the middle section. The last movement is a true romp, giving Leuba a chance to show off.

Paul Tufts was a contemporary of Leuba at the University of Washington and Tufts wrote his horn sonata for Leuba. The first movement is full of quick changes, but also showcases Leuba’s playing at its mellowest. The adagio may remind listeners of one of Mahler’s horn solos, but I felt that here Leuba’s playing was at its least convincing. Tufts wrote the last movement as a homage to Leuba’s days as an orchestral player. I counted references to horn solos from works by Beethoven, Brahms, Franck, Tchaikovsky, and Richard Strauss, and I’m sure there were more. The movement is a happy one, although it ends abruptly.

As mentioned above this disc was originally released as an LP and that accounts for its short duration; assumedly it was re-released as a memorial to Christopher Leuba. It is a must for devotees of virtuoso horn playing as well as fans of twentieth century American music.

William Kreindler
 



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