Sonatas for Horn and Fortepiano by Anneke Scott

 

Sonatas for Horn and Fortepiano
Anneke Scott, horn and Kathryn Cok, fortepiano
A=430, recorded November 2007,
A&R Challenge Records (2011), CC72515

This recording presents two women with impeccable historic-performance pedigrees. Anneke Scott is the principal horn of John Eliot Gardiner’s English Baroque Soloists while Kathryn Cok, a former student of Ton Koopman and Bart van Oort, co-founded the Caecilia-Concert. Presented with such credentials one might reasonably expect nothing short of an excellent recording, and this is exactly what the two have provided. With the exception of Beethoven’s Op. 17 Horn Sonata, the works presented are literally unheard of: a little-known E major Horn Sonata by Nikolaus von Krufft, an 1818 Breitkopf and Härtel arrangement of a Haydn string quartet movement, and the first ever (so far as I can determine) recording of the Sonata in E flat composed by Maximillian Joseph Leidesdorf (a student of Beethoven) and arranged, edited, or perhaps even co-composed by a contemporary Viennese hornist (Camilla Bellonci). The obscurity of these works, each of which are nevertheless interesting in their own right, let alone the quality of the performances, makes the CD a valuable resource for anyone wishing to expand their knowledge of the solo horn literature of the Classical-era.

Scott performs on a 1790 Lausmann reproduction by Andreas Jungwirth, while Cok’s piano is a 1798 Rosenberger (Viennese) copy by David Winston. The pairing is nothing if not authentic, but much to my surprise there were times where the stopped horn seemed unable to compete with the pianoforte’s volume (most noticeably in the CD’s first track). Regardless of such nitpicking, between the horn’s hand-stopping and fortepiano’s generally delicate tone quality one gets the sense that both the Krufft and the Leidesdorf/Bellonci sound better here than they did two centuries ago. While contemporary, these two sonatas are markedly different in style and in technical challenges. The Krufft’s opening movement is especially chromatic, with very audible challenges presented by constant hand-stopping. The lyrical second movement is better in quality than many other brass middle-movements. The finale, a feisty “alla Polacca” movement, lurches along in an entirely characteristic manner. The Leidesdorf/Bellonci sonata has quite a bit of technical work – arpeggios, fast passages, etc. – especially the deceptively-titled “Rondo Pastorale” finale. Bellonci was clearly quite a virtuoso horn player in her day – for those of you looking for a thesis or dissertation topic, it looks like she one of those relative unknowns worthy of detailed research. The Bellonci sonata’s opening movement does not present the noticeable hand-stopping challenges seen in the Krufft. The trumpet player in me wants to equate Krufft’s blatant chromaticism to Haydn’s trumpet concerto and Leidesdorf/Bellonci’s technical challenges to Hummel’s (though the keys chosen by the composers are the opposite in both cases). The varied styles of these two horn sonatas make the Beethoven’s Op. 17, the middle work on the CD, sound quite conventional by comparison. That is not to say that the duo does not play the Beethoven well (they do), but rather that Beethoven’s work is much more conventional and “proper” than the others… if you will indulge me with a bit of blasphemy! In any event, Scott and Cok have negotiated each of these varied challenges successfully and crafted a compelling musical performance.

I have quite unfairly neglected the Haydn arrangement to this point. It is excellently performed, and admittedly the first time I have heard of a Haydn movement arranged for brass so close to the composer’s lifetime (1818 was only nine years after his death). While I flatter myself to think that I know my way around Haydn’s oeuvre pretty well, this track raised many questions: who arranged it (it is unsigned, perhaps a hornist?), to what purpose, is there a reasoning behind the specific selection of Op. 74/3/ii (aside from it’s being arranged for various different instruments on a number of other occasions), where might it have been performed, and how many other works by Haydn found their way to performance by wind instruments in the 18th and early 19th centuries via arrangement that we now have forgotten? Such questions may seem unduly academic, but the answers would tell us quite a bit about just how popular Haydn’s music was among contemporary woodwind and brass players. Hopefully someone will take the time to look into these questions someday. Here is a tidbit to get you started: a search of the Breitkopf and Härtel catalog reveals it was their only brass arrangement of Haydn even into the 20th century. But who knows what other publishers had or even what is out there in manuscript? In any case, the thing that recommended this CD to me personally was that it raised so many questions but was not performed like an academic exercise in the slightest. While scores and scholarship make me ask questions regularly, it has been a long time since a CD did.

-- Bryan Proksch, McNeese State University
7 October 2011