Chant d’Automne / French Horn Music
Music of Saint-Saëns, Radoux, Pessard, Jeanjean, Kunc, Guillemyn, Strong, Chabrier
Ulrich Hübner, natural and valve horns, Kölner Akademie, conducted by Michael Alexander Willens
Ars Produktion 38027
It’s unknown repertoire on instruments that dropped out of sight a century ago. Then why is this CD so magical? Three reasons. First, the music is loveliness itself. The pieces will be new to most listeners, as the literature for solo horn with orchestra doesn’t receive a lot of play. I’ve always wondered why, since the sound of the French horn can be equally noble, pleading, heroic, self-effacing, warm, and brilliant. Every Hollywood score calls for the French horn at the big moment, but it’s so much more than that. It has everything we want in a solo.
Second, the soloist is stunning. On two different types of instruments, the pre-modern valved horn (as if the modern horn isn’t hard enough to play) and the older “natural” horn (with no valves, no kidding), Ulrich Hübner weaves a rainbow of colors. There’s particular enchantment here: the older instruments, with touchy personalities builders have tried to hammer out, had moxie to spare. Everyone desires elegant phrasing, but there was a time when elegance did not mean monochromatic. Character was king, and if one note in a phrase had a completely different color from its neighbors, well, vive la différence.
Third, this period-instrument orchestra is lithe and supple, with a rich, plummy sound, proving that Romantic doesn’t mean over-stuffed. Willens is an athletic leader, and the music-making exhilarates.
That’s magic enough. Add that all the pieces are jewels, and this is a CD that charms from beginning to end.