The Contemporary Natural Horn by Jeffrey Snedeker

The Contemporary Natural Horn
Jeffrey Snedeker, natural horn
Marilyn Wilbanks, John Sanders, and Nikolas Caoile, piano
Mark Goodenberger, percussion
Recorded December, 2009-February, 2010, Music Building Concert Hall, Central Washington University, Ellensburg, Washington

Titled simply “The Contemporary Natural Horn,” Jeffrey Snedeker’s most recent recording offers an astounding collection of modern works written for the old instrument. This CD is an extension of the extensive work he has been doing in recent years to promote modern music for the natural horn (lectures, articles, recitals). All written by contemporary composers, the pieces included range from solo works, settings for natural horn and piano, and compositions for natural horn with percussion, to a piece for horn and digital delay. The names of the pieces include several words like elegy, goodbye, thoughtful, weep, and searching. Thus one might think the music presented on Snedeker’s CD would be very melancholy. But the collection is certainly not a “Natural Horn for Relaxation” version of some of the unfortunate collections one might find at the big record/bookstore chains. This CD is a formidable collection of works, well chosen to showcase the modern capabilities of the antiquated instrument.

“The Contemporary Natural Horn” opens with a fantastic rendition of Arkady Schilkloper’s Alpine Trail. Originally written for the alphorn, Alpine Trail uses only the natural harmonics, without any hand-stopping. There are some additional techniques contained in the piece, such as sound effects created with lip pops and vocalizations/multi-phonics, though, that add wonderful tonal variety to the piece. Alpine Trail is a lively piece, with a distinct dancelike quality. By contrast, the other solo pieces on the CD, Goodbye to a Friend, by Snedeker and Elegia für Naturhorn, by Hermann Baumann, are more measured, somber pieces, as their titles suggest.

Pieces for natural horn and piano are well represented on this CD. Works include Sonata No. 3 for Natural Horn and Piano “Searching” (1997), by James Nicholas, September Elegy for Natural Horn and Piano (2001), by Jeffrey Agrell, and Three Pieces for Natural Horn and Piano, op. 88 (1989), by C.D. Wiggins. James Nicholas’s piece makes wonderful use of echo effects between the piano and the horn. The stylistic alternations between sections of the piece are reminiscent of classic pieces in the repertoire that exploit the vocal and hunting characteristics of the instrument. Jeffery Agrell’s September Elegy is a much more intellectually demanding piece. A reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it broods and festers, almost demanding that the listener relive the emotional frustrations of that day and the time that followed. At one point the horn evokes a wailing cry that is hauntingly realistic. Typical of Agrell’s aesthetic, the piece incorporates sections of improvised material. Wiggins’s Three Pieces offer a comfortable contrast to the other horn and piano works on the CD. Immediately apparent in Wiggins’s work are the structural elements associated with familiar Classical forms and conventions.

The remaining compositions on the CD pair the horn with less traditional companions. Gently Weep by Thomas Hundemer, makes use of a digital delay. The effects of overlapping echoes created by the delay are stunning. Unfortunately, the predictability of the effect may become tiresome to some listeners. Douglas Hill’s and Randall Faust’s compositions both pair the horn with percussion. Douglas Hill’s Thoughtful Wanderings includes the added use of recorded nature sounds, lending the feeling to the performance that we are no longer sitting in the concert hall but have wandered off into the wilderness. Randall Faust’s Dances for Natural Horn and Percussion was originally written for a recital that included dancers. While the visual element of the dancers is absent in any audio recording, the imagination can certainly envision the movement of the dancer through Faust’s music.

Snedeker’s playing throughout the CD is stunning. His tone quality is full and vibrant, whether he is playing open or stopped tones on the natural horn. He adds just the right amount of vibrato at times, imparting a pleasant vocal quality to his already beautiful sound. The music on this CD is extremely well played. It is also worth exploring for any natural horn enthusiast that is interested in exploring contemporary works for the instrument. Perhaps the most likely place to find a copy of this recording may be on the shelf of one of the many fine horn professors out there. And this repertoire should certainly be explored and played by students and teachers alike. While some hornists may be familiar with Baumann’s Elegia, or even Pflüger’s Kaleidoskop, it is truly refreshing to hear such a wide ranging collection of modern music for the natural horn as this one presented by Professor Snedeker.

-- Eric Brummitt