Madeuf recording of Molter

madeuf molterJean-François Madeuf, J. M. Molter: Concertos for Trumpets and Horns (Accent ACC 24327).

Johann Melchior Molter (1696–1765) was a highly regarded and prolific composer, born in Tiefenort near Eisenach. He spent considerable time in Italy and was influenced there

Pioneering Ophicleide CD

Back from Oblivion; Nick Byrne, Ophicleide; David Miller, Piano. Melba Recordings MR 301111 Australia, Recorded at the Australian National Academy of Music (6-8 December 2006)

CD Contents:
Dagnelies: Fantasie Variée
Proctor: Adagio from Ophecleide Concerto
Demersseman: Introduction et Polonaise
Elgar: Romance
Kummer: Variations for Ophecleide
Rachmaninov: Vocalise
Handel: Oh Ruddier than the Cherry
Grieg: Ich Liebe Dich
Klosé: Air Varié
Piazzola: Oblivion

The "rare" Ophicleide is enjoying a renaissance. This is certainly proven by the release of Nick Byrne's wonderful CD. Nota bene: "From Oblivion" is the first commercially released solo recording ever made of this curious and evolutionary instrument! While it seems that the ophecleide could be considered an ancestor of the modern-day tuba, it actually was invented around 1817. So the ophecleide actually is more of kissing cousin to the tuba (Moritz' first tuba was patented in 1835, so was first constructed some years before). Or maybe ugly stepsister. It certainly looks "ancestral" as related to a tuba, appearing to echo the relationship between the keyed bugle and the valved cornet. Because the valved low brass instruments eventually proved to be a better design, many opheclides were soon relegated to storage closets -- except in the hands of only the most ardent fans and virtuosi. Its wider usage was only for a couple decades after 1820, and so maybe the real ophicleide "golden age" is happening right now, when we have an international community of ophicleidists (?), including several modern day virtuosi, such a Nick Byrne. Many of the original 19th-century instruments have been refurbished into playing condition, and some are even for sale in certain Parisian shops. There also are artisans are building new ones.

So, it is authentic for us to be hearing 19th-century romantic music played on this instrument. It is an object from the early part of that era and it played a part in initiating composers, conductors, and audiences to the possibility of a bass brass instrument with facility. Nick notes on his fine website: "Performers, such as English Virtuoso Samuel Hughes and the Royal Italian Opera's (Covent Garden) J.H. Guilmartin, continued to perform on the instrument late into the 1890's."

The name is derived from the Greek "ophis" (meaning serpent) and "kleis" (to cover). Having between 9 and 11 keys, and in a variety of sizes, from the alto (quinticlave) pitched in E-flat or F, to the contrabasses in E-flat or C, "ophicleide" can be considered a family of instruments.

If the ophicleide is a "period" instrument, that period embraces orchestral works of Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Meyerbeer, Italian opera composers, and others. As a chamber instrument or military band instrument, it seems to have made brass chamber music more possible for the first time since sackbuts and cornettos were shelved. Both the orchestral works and the smaller ensembles are represented by some good examples in the CD catalogs. See Nick’s website (address below) for a very complete ophicleide discography.

Back from Oblivion is a first-class production, with gorgeous recording acoustics, and stylish and masterful playing by both Nick Byrne and pianist David Miller. The CD was produced with the support of the Melba Foundation, Australia Council, and arts agencies of the Australian government, allowing for a deluxe product in every respect. It is a pleasurable listening experience and the liner notes are excellent. His website, is the primary destination for learning more about this instrument and its tradition. Nick plays on an 1830 Finke ophicleide in C, and an 1875 C model by Halévy, both, by the measure of this recording, perfectly restored.

The CD is not available on, but Nick suggests in the U.S. and or in the U.K. and Europe. In Australasia, try This is one CD to own and enjoy repeatedly. The first modern solo recording of the ophicleide didn't have to be this superb. We'll have to throw all our ophicleide jokes out.

--- Paul Niemisto

Le Concert Brisé: Schmelzer Sonatas

brise SchmelzerWilliam Dongois and Le Concert Brisé. Johann Heinrich Schmelzer: Sonatas. Accent (ACC 24324), 2016.

Joy. Joy without limit. This sums up William Dongois’s recording of music by Johann Schmelzer. It contains all of the characteristics which we have come to expect from Dongois, both in terms of his stunning playing, and in terms of the musicians he surrounds himself with: Le Conçert Brisé.  Dongois continues to impress with his virtuosity on cornett, mute cornett, and cornettino. However, in the final minute or so of Schmelzer’s Sonata secondo his playing is beyond virtuosic. It is positively on fire, yet entirely controlled and refined. That said, the joy in this recording is not entirely joy for the display of technical virtuosity. All of the phrasing is refined. Ornaments are tossed off easily and serve to enhance and not dominate phrasing. Dongois absolutely sings in his playing and it is joyous singing.

Stefan Legée’s work on sackbut is refined and nimble. He blends perfectly with the other instruments. When he is in his high register it can be difficult to differentiate his sound from the cornetto and trumpet.

Ensemble La Fontaine, Fede e Amor

2017 fede amorAlex Potter, Catherine Motus, Simen Van Mechelen, Carles Cristobal, and Ensemble La Fontaine, Fede e Amor (Ramée, RAM1304, 2013)

In his revealing “Trombone Obbligatos in Viennese Oratorios of the Baroque” (HBSJ 2, 1990: 52–77), Stewart Carter drew our attention to an overlooked source for seventeenth- and eighteenth-century virtuoso trombone practice: the music written for the Easter Week celebrations in Vienna. Between about 1640 and 1740

Breathtaking by Hana Blazikova and Bruce Dickey (7)

breathtakingHana Blažíková and Bruce Dickey, Breathtaking: A Cornetto and a Voice Entwined (Passacaille 1020, 2016). Recorded November, 2015.

This remarkable recording is a perfect exemplification of the marriage of research and practice. This is not to characterize it as just an academic project because its main achievement is the artistic pleasure it generates. But an important point is also made. The fact is that the living presence of the cornetto in the modern musical world is due to Dickey. Not only is he a virtuoso, but the journey he has taken to understand the instrument in its own terms has, over decades, provided us with a series of revelations that he has been able to display with increasing eloquence. None surpasses this. The repertoire, the performance of the supporting players, the quality of the recording, the singing of the remarkable young Prague-born soprano Hana Blažíková, and of course Dickey’s own playing create one of the best recordings I have ever listened to.

John Ericson, Rescued! Forgotten Works for Horn

John Ericson, horn and Yi-Wan Liao, piano. Rescued! Forgotten Works for the 19th Century Horn. Summit Records DCD 689, 2015.

John Ericson, professor of horn at Arizona State University, is a noted horn scholar and leading horn virtuoso. He has made a special study of 19th century valve horn and this wonderful recording is the culmination of those efforts.  Ericson has not only unearthed and “rescued” a number of fine but scarcely known solo horn pieces but put together a fine program emphasizing a particular aspect of the brass tradition. These pieces are part of the low horn playing tradition at a time when there was a clear delineation between high and low horn playing. The music included in this recording was composed from about 1860–1910. Low horn players during that period used the single F horn while high horn playing was done on the single Bb horn. Ericson explains in his fine CD notes that the modern double horn in F/Bb was not invented until 1897.

The single F horn that Ericson plays on this CD, made by Richard Seraphinoff, is not based on a particular existing historic instrument but instead patterned in layout after an illustration in the Kling Method. In a private communication with John Ericson he explained that having a proper period mouthpiece was a key to the recording. He played on a mouthpiece built by Tom Greer of Moosewood Mouthpieces. It is a replica of a 19th century Courtois mouthpiece. Ericson explained that he spent about four months working on upper range articulations. While the adjustment from his modern horn mouthpiece was not an easy one to make, the results were well worth it. The sound produced was decidedly not a typical modern sound but one most appropriate to the period of music.

Ericson’s program consists of solo horn works with piano accompaniment. These are not household names but the composers on this CD program were important musicians of the period some of whom were noted performers and teachers of their day.  Bernhard Eduard Müller (1842–c. 1920) is the most represented composer on the recording with four of the fifteen pieces on the CD: Nocturno, Op. 73, Melancholie, Op. 68, Am Abend, Op. 71, and Wiegenlied, Op. 69.  Ericson points out that Müller played horn in the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig and is today most noted for his horn etudes. The other works include: Sonate, Op. 347 by Fritz Spindler (1817–1905), Gondellied, Op. 15 by Karl Matys (1835–1908),  Lied ohne Worte, Op. 2 by Oscar Franz (1843–86), a leading orchestral hornist and teacher. Richard Strauss dedicated the orchestral score of his Horn Concerto no. 1, Op. 11 to Franz. The rest of the program consists of the Serenade, Op. 20 by Louis Bödecker (1845–99), Lied ohne Worte by Josef Richter (d. 1925), Resignation, Op. 16 by Charles Eisner (1802–74), and Sonata, Op. 7 by Hermann Eichborn (1847–1918).

Yi-Wan Liao does an admirable job on accompanying Ericson particularly in light of the demanding piano parts on many of these works.

The repertoire on this recording might not be masterpieces on the order of works by Beethoven, Brahms, or Schumann, but they are clearly solid musical expressions representative of a style and period of music history. We would be the poorer if they were lost to us completely and clearly we owe a great debt to John Ericson for not only “rescuing” a wonderful segment of that repertoire with a beautiful performance on this recording but for his important scholarly activities exploring them.

-- Jeffrey Nussbaum

Chants d'Amour by Terra Nova

terra nova chantsTerra Nova Collective, Chants d’Amour (Self-published, 2016)

Joroen Billiet, historical horns, Jean-Claude Vanden Eynden, piano, Véronique Bogaerts, violin, Mark De Merlier, early valve horn, Marjan De Haer, harp

Recorded 3-4-5 November, 2015 in AMUZ-Augustinas Muziekcentrum Antwerp

This recording, featuring historical hornist Joroen Billiet, brings together a fine collection of works that reward the listener with wonderfully “lyrical” melodic lines reminiscent of the vocal literature. These pieces are rather different from the operatic fantasias of Gallay, seeming more in line with the vocalises of Cancone or Bordogni. As stated on the inner cover of the CD jacket, “The playlist of Chants d’Amour is based on the concert repertoire performed by [the] legendary Liègeois horn player, admired by Johannes Brahms”, Alphonse Stenebruggen. Five of the works on this CD are world premiere recordings, and each of the pieces will be made available for purchase by Golden River Music.

Pygmalion by Rheinmädchen

pygmalionrheinPygmalion, Rheinmädchen (Harmonia Mundi 902239) 2015.

Raphaël Pichon, director; Emmanuel Ceysson, harp; Anneke Scott, Joseph Walters, Olivier Picon, and Chris Larkin, horns; Bernarda Fink, mezzo-soprano.

A recent recording on the Harmonia Mundi label features the vocal group Pygmalion, under the direction of Raphaël Pichon. In this recording we are treated to twenty one selections of music, mostly for female voices - our Rhinemaidens, of course - with several pieces featuring horns and harp. The pieces on this recoding are pulled from the oeuvres of Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, and Richard Wagner, along with one piece from Heinrich Isaac. Additionally, the works are organized in such a way as to illuminate similarities in text, literary themes, and musical devices amongst these titans of Romantic music.