Recoding Review of Serikon's Along Uncharted Routes

Serikon, dir. Daniel Stighäll, Along Uncharted Routes: Improvisation over Standards from the Renaissance, (Footprint Records, FRCD 056), Recorded 15-16 May 2009 and 26-26 November 2010.

It is ironic that the modern impression of sixteenth-century diminution practice has been so formed by a number of pieces given as examples in didactic treatises by figures such as Diego Ortiz, Girolamo dalla Casa, and Francesco Rognoni, among others. While these works do indeed give a compelling sense of the vocabulary of florid ornamentation so characteristic of late sixteenth-century Italian music, as fully notated works they come freighted with a degree of fixity that veils what is arguably the essence of the practice: improvisation. In the veiling we often seem to lose sight of the dynamic of spontaneity, as the “division piece” becomes a florid, fixed composition to be negotiated by the player or singer, rather than a dynamic process through which compositions are enlivened and graced. As the title implies, in Along Uncharted Routes, the superb Swedish ensemble Serikon takes a different path, offering performances of the same sort of pieces that Ortiz, dalla Casa, and Rognoni enshrined as examples—“Susane un jour,” “Anchor che col partire,” etc.—but with improvised diminutions. Of course, the recording medium itself introduces an unavoidable degree of irony, for with repeated hearings the renditions take on a certain fixity, as with written examples, but significantly, the improvisational element is easily discerned nonetheless, and is very gratifying. This seems especially evident in the wonderful version of “Susane un jour,” where the embellishment from within the ensemble by mute cornett and trombone had the effect of creating an easy fluidity and flavorful seasoning rather than attempting to steal the show with long-rehearsed, musical pyrotechnics.

Additionally, Along Uncharted Routes shows a wide range of approaches that an ensemble can take in rendering diminution pieces. Here there are examples of a sung melody with polyphonic voices played and embellished, an ornamented upper voice played to the accompaniment of lower instrumental parts, and keyboard and plucked string reductions of the polyphony with the upper voice ornamented. The more successful route seems to be where individual polyphonic lines are preserved, rather than reduced on a non-sustaining instrument. The preservation of the inner lines seems not only to offer a functional counterweight to the floridity of the ornamental line, but also keeps the harmonies clear, as the theorist Vicentino reminds: “To avoid losing harmony in composition while singers display a refined talent for diminuition, it is a good idea to have such diminution accompanied by instruments that play the composition accurately, without diminution. For harmony cannot be lost through diminution if the instrument holds the consonances for their full value” (trans. Anne Smith).

The ensemble is an engaging one that understands the synergy of collaboration. Yet individually there is also much to savor. The beautiful cornett playing by William Dongois is wonderfully vowel-rich, with gracefully contoured phrasing and an exceedingly gratifying low register. Daniel Stighäll’s trombone playing is both as sensitive as it is agile. The main focus of the recording is the improvisational rendition of standard works. But for good measure, the ensemble has also included a few composed division pieces—Notari’s “Ben qui si mostra” (Cipriano da Rore) and Francesco Rognoni’s “Pulchra es” (Palestrina)—as well as a modern work for tenor sackbut by Aron Hidman.

If Serikon’s musical routes are “uncharted,” we might in the future all hope they become more frequently traveled paths, and for that particular journey the members of Serikon will continue to prove wonderfully congenial traveling companions. Buon viaggio!

-- Steven Plank

Bach: Easter Oratorio, by S Kuijken and J-F Madeuf

Johann Sebastian Bach
Easter Oritorio, BWV 249
Le Petite Bande
cond. Sigiswald Kuijken
Recorded 4/2009
Academiezcal Sint-Truiden, Belgium
Accent Records ACC 25313

Le Petite Band is involved in a Bach Cantata project which has them recording one cantata for each Sunday as well as the high feasts of the liturgical year. If the present recording is any indication of what shall follow in the series, I heartily recommend them in advance to our Historic Brass Society members and, really, to all interested in the music of Bach.

The trumpet players on this recording are Jean-Francois Madeuf, Jean-Charles Denis, and Graham Nicholson. They are playing natural (unvented) trumpets made by Graham Nicholson (after Ehe), and Egger BL #1 mouthpieces (which are similar to the mouthpiece found with the Bull trumpet, further see Eric Halfpenny, Galpin Society Journal 20 [1967], 76-88). Their playing is superb; a complete delight. I am impressed by the smoothness of articulation, the perfect blending of timbre, the refined phrasing, and excellent intonation. On the last category, special recognition should go to Jean-Charles Denis for his lovely sustained 11th partial in the Chorus “Kommt, eilet und laufet.”

Sigiswald Kuijken’s approach to this music, outlined in the liner notes, emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the text: for what it says, for how Bach is setting it musically, and for such elements as rhyme and rhythm as being important elements which help form the rhetoric. Additionally he discusses the use of da spalla performance practice used for the violincello piccolo. His performance on that instrument for the obbligato of the aria “Ach bleib bei uns, Herr Jesu Christ” in Cantata 6 is very light and refined which allows the listener to better hear the interplay of text and counterpoint.

In adhering to the now-accepted practice of using one vocalist per part and minimal numbers of instrumentalists, Kuijken presents Bach with a lightness and transparency which allows the genius of the counterpoint and text to be revealed to the listener. Madeuf and his trumpet section play with complete mastery of the natural trumpet and in so doing, help elevate this performance to greatness, demonstrating that it is not only possible to perform Bach’s trumpet parts on the truly natural trumpet, but that it is preferable to do so.

This recording project of Bach cantatas by Sigiswald Kuijken and Le Petite Bande on Accent Records is deserving of our highest attention.

-- James Miller
Editor's note: Le Petit Band's recoding of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos has also been reviewed by the HBS.

Brandenburg Concertos by S Kuijken and J-F Madeuf

J.S. Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos
Sigiswald Kuijken and La Petite Bande
Jean-François Madeuf, trumpet and horn; Pierre-Yves Madeuf, horn
A=415Hz, recorded October 2009
Accent Records, ACC 24224

With so many high-quality historically-informed recordings, one might think that there is little reason to re-record Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. While that might be true for some, staunch brass purists know that there has never been a recording of the Second Brandenburg using a natural trumpet without any modernization to assist with tuning. No recording, that is, until the present 2009 recording by La Petite Bande with Sigiswald Kuijken conducting (Jean-François Madeuf on trumpet). Kuijken’s recording of the set wears its agenda plainly on its sleeve (pardon the pun): to be the first “no compromises” historical recording of the six works and to do so with artistic and listenable results.

The ramifications of a true no-compromise approach to these works are manifold, and some of them have nothing to do with the trumpet. Kuijken and his players hold themselves to this standard with commendable zeal. First, he feels compelled to play Concertos Nos. 1 and 2 with only one player per part (including the accompanimental/orchestral parts). Noting that conductors have long accepted that Concertos Nos. 3-6 have been performed in this way, he states that he can see no reason for approaching the first two works of the set any differently. The debate over the forces at Bach’s disposal has raged for decades (especially regarding multiple singers in Bach’s choral music) and will doubtless never be resolved to everyone’s complete satisfaction. The present reviewer is of the opinion that the few surviving sources do not require Kuijken’s hard-line stance for these works, but neither do they refute the possibility that Bach used one player per part. Second, Kuijken feels the need to use the violoncello da spalla (a “shoulder cello” upon which he has elsewhere recorded Bach’s cello suites) as his cello of choice, citing recent research that this instrument, rather than the “normal” cello, was what Bach normally indicated with his generic term “violoncello.” I am not in an informed enough position to evaluate the merits of this approach, but concede Kuijken’s point that the result is a continuo section that is “very transparent and yet solid support” for the ensemble. Admittedly, I probably would not have noticed any difference had he omitted the reference in his liner notes.

The most daunting impediment to a true no-compromise recording of the Brandenburg Concertos is, of course, the remarkable solo trumpet part in Concerto No. 2, BWV 1047. The increasing number of “historically-informed” performances of this work have one commonality: the use of vents (extra holes) to tune the natural trumpet’s 11th and 13th partials. Many also make a variety of hidden compromises in lead-pipes, mouthpieces, and bell shapes. Jean-François Madeuf, the HBS’s 2009 Christopher Monk Awardee, meets this challenge head-on. Playing a faithfully reproduced unvented early eighteenth-century J.W. Haas trumpet and an unnamed “conscientious copy of the period mouthpieces,” Madeuf performs commendably and virtuosically. I doubt that any 1720s trumpeter could have played the piece any better than Madeuf does on this recording, and few modern-day trumpeters could equal Madeuf’s feat given the same equipment restrictions. The recording includes the quirks typical of any unvented natural trumpet recording, most audibly the occasionally out-of-tune 11th and 13th partials. Madeuf’s ability to bend these pitches into tune has minimized the tuning problem to a remarkable extent. Another noticeable result is the trumpet’s somewhat foggy sound in its highest register (above the 14th partial). This too is part of the instrument’s sound when playing without the clarity provided by nodal holes. In Madeuf’s case, the fogginess is unduly accentuated by the crisp playing produced by Kuijken’s one performer to a part policy. In spite of this mountain of technical difficulties, Madeuf’s playing is superb.

As might be expected given the laws of physics, these same problems appear on the recording of Concerto No. 1, BWV 1046, where Madeuf’s horn playing, and that of his brother Pierre-Yves Madeuf, is quite good nevertheless. Here the brothers have opted not to use hand-stopping whatsoever. This makes for a more raucous, rustic sound on the whole, but also highlights the difficulties of tuning unvented horns. Perhaps they would have been better served to stop some of the sections when necessary (surely this would not have violated their strict approach?), particularly towards the end of the first movement (~3:00) where both horns play out-of-tune partials simultaneously. Of course, if Bach’s horns did not hand-stop either, then the results would have been the same as on this recording, but it seems highly unlikely that 1720s horn players did not use the technique as needed.

While technical accomplishment is nice, the goal any recording must be something that is artistic and enjoyable to hear. Having played an unvented natural trumpet for many years, I am not squeamish in the least about the tuning problems created by the unaltered harmonic series. I find Madeuf’s playing excellent in its artistry, regardless of technical considerations. For the purposes of teaching and as a means to understanding how the natural trumpet “really sounded” when played competently, owing this recording is a no-brainer. On the other hand, the casual listener accustomed to vented or otherwise modernized Baroque trumpets will probably prefer a different recording for daily listening. Regardless of preference, the technical decisions made by these performers have ensured that the recording is as close as we may ever come to hearing the Brandenburg Concertos as Bach might have heard them c. 1720.

-- Bryan Proksch, McNeese State University

Editor's note: Le Petit Band's recoding of Bach's Easter Oratorio has also been reviewed by the HBS.

Three Recordings by Rabaskadol led by Fritz Heller

Three Recordings by Rabaskadol led by Fritz Heller

Ensemble Website:

Publisher Website:

In Principio
Rabaskadol with Rostocker Mottenchor and Markus Johannes Langer
Aliud Records (ACD HA 010-2) recorded June and July 2006

Saskia van der Wel, soprano
Fritz Heller, straight and mute cornetto
Arno Paduch, curved and straight cornetto
Tim Dowling, Cas Gevers,Detlef Reimers, and Peter Sommer, trombone
Mechthild Alpers, bass shawm
Vincent Van Lazar, positive organ

Martin Peudargent
Rabaskadol with Capella ’92 and Gerben Van Der Veen
Aliud Records (ACD HN 016-2) recorded June 2006 and February 2007

Fritz Heller, straight, curved, and mute cornetto
Katherine Barml, alto shawm
Cas Gevers,Deflef Reimers, and Peter Stelzl: sackbut
Mechthild Alpers and Ursula Bruckdorfer: bass curtal;
Martin Lubenow, positive organ , spinet, curved and mute cornetto

In Passione Domini
Rabaskadol with William Byrd Vocal Ensemble and Nico Van Der Meel
Aliud records (ACD HJ 044-2) recorded October-December 2009

Saskia van der Wel, soprano and bass violin
Fritz Heller, cornetto and mute cornetto
Arwen Bouw, violin,tenor violin
Regine Haussler, Mechthild Alpers, and Jose Rodriguez Gomes: curtal
Bernard Bartelink, organ (Willibrodus organ)

Instrument Details: Fritz Heller: straight cornetto at A-440 after Berlin instrument A=632 and mute cornetto after S. Hier (Leipzig). Both instruments were make by Heller; curved cornetto by Siem van der Veen after Hambug Museum fur Kunstgesichte; all mouthpieces built by Heller.
Other cornetto players:  instruments built by Roland Wilson and Paolo Franciulatti. Sackbutts: Cas Gevers: Geert Jan van der Heide after Hainlein, 1630, mouthpiece by van der Heide; Peter Stetzl: Meinl after Drewelwecz, 1595, mouthpiece by Peter Sommer; Tim Dowling: Meinl after Drewelwecz, 1595, mouthpiece by van der Heide; Detlev Reimers: Egger after Hainlein, 1630, mouthpiece by Thein, Bremen; Peter Sommer: bass sackbut “basso variable” by Sommer & Kempkes, mouthpiece by Peter Sommer.

The three recordings under consideration here are the fruit of Fritz Heller and his ensemble, Rabaskadol. Rabaskadol was founded in 1985 to perform wind music on period instruments and their repertoire spans medieval, renaissance, and early baroque eras. In addition to being its founder and leader, Fritz Heller plays various cornetti (straight, curved, and mute). He is also an accomplished instrument maker. Unfortunately, no information pertaining to the specific make of instruments used is provided in the otherwise extensive and informative liner notes, however the reviewer recieved detailed information from Heller which has been included above under "instrument details."

The music of “In Principio” comes from a collection of some 140 works gathered by a trumpeter of the court band of Graz, Niclas Rekh in 1585. The collection contains motets, madrigals and instrumental pieces which prescribe specific instrumentation: cornets (straight for German works, curved for Italian), shawms, and trombones. Some of the works on this recording have not been performed for 400 years. Composers represented are Orlando di Lasso, Andrea Gabrieli, and Giaches de Wert.

The second CD considered here features the music of Martin Peudargent (ca. 1510-before 1594), who composed for the Court of Duke Wilhelm V of Jullich-Keve-Berg. The majority of music on this recording is from the second of his three books (1555).

In Passione Domini is a collection of Passion motets by Johannes Flamingus (d 1598?), Orlando di Lasso, Alexander Utendal (ca. 1535-1581), Michel DuBuisson (fl. 1560-73) and Jan Vakestijn (b. 1928). While the 16th century music will likely be of more interest to our HBS members, Vakestijn’s music is interesting in that the composer has scored it for cornetto, strings and curtal. Rabaskadol performs it wonderfully, giving great care to phrasing and blend. The result is an attractive blend of 16th century timbres and 20th century harmonies.

The quality of these three recordings is impressive. I was moved by their richness and grandeur as well as their especially fine blend and sensitive phrasing. Some tracks are purely instrumental performances of vocal music. Care is taken in articulation to “sing” the underlay. I also admire Heller’s sensitive playing with soprano Sakia van der Wel (whose warm expressive voice is itself inspiring) on Peudargent’s “En Foecunda Aquila.” Indeed, so well matched are they that it is easy to mistake cornetto with voice in the interweaving and imitative lines. This quality can be heard throughout. In total, this group of Fritz Heller’s recordings deserves our members’ highest attention.

--James Miller

Kentucky Baroque Trumpets DVD

[Editors note: A cover photo of this DVD/recording was not available; it is likely available for purchase directly from the ensemble by following the link below - BP]

The Kentucky Baroque Trumpets (KBT) recently put out a DVD of a few of their performances. Founded by Don Johnson in 2005, the KBT has rapidly developed as a Baroque trumpet ensemble, winning the International Trumpet Guild National Trumpet Competition, Historic Ensemble Division in 2007.

This short DVD (a little over 15 minutes) gives the viewer a taste of their repertoire and talent. The first selection is a French military fanfare “To the Standard” composed by David Buhl in 1829 which gained later notoriety in an arrangement for US telecasts of the Olympic Games. The KBT performs this selection (and two others) in the rotunda of the Pennsylvania Capitol Building in Harrisburg, PA. The rotunda, because of its construction, has lots of echo, but the KBT does a wonderful job of staying together with good intonation. The descant near the end of the fanfare is very effective.

The other two selections played in the rotunda are the 1st movement of the Concerto for 7 Trumpets by J. E. Altenburg (ca. 1795) and an anonymous duet from Modena (ca. 1690). The Altenburg Concerto sounds quite regal. The group performs the contrasting dynamics and tempos very well. The setting actually helps the viewer to imagine hearing this fanfare in a palace where it was probably originally performed. The Duet from Modena was adapted as a fanfare for the movie Rocky. Don Johnson arranged the Duet for six parts. The group, as they do on the other fanfares, performs with skill and enthusiasm.

The other two selections were performed elsewhere and provide a contrast to the bravado of the fanfares. The KBT performs the Sonata a 5 Clarini by Kremsler (ca. 1690) with sensitivity and delicacy. Since they are performing indoors, one can hear how well they articulate and blend. Don Johnson is the soloist on the 2nd movement of the Concerto in D Major by Johann Hertel (ca. 1760). Johnson plays with great feeling, handling the slow, sustained parts of this movement beautifully. He also shows his skill in ornamentation.

Since this DVD was filmed during live performances, there are a few distractions, especially at the Harrisburg Rotunda where people were continually walking in front of the camera. However, all in all, this is a well-produced DVD. This DVD, as far as I know, is available only at their performances. Even though some of the selections are on the KBT website and You Tube, if you get a chance, you should buy the DVD. It is convenient to have all these selections on disc and the KBT deserves your support.

-- Randy Barbiero

Haydn works for horn CD by Wilhelm Bruns


Joseph Haydn. Symphony No. 31 (“Mit dem Hornsignal”); Horn Concertos nos. 1 & 2.
Wilhelm Bruns, natural horn; Heidelberger Sinfoniker, Thomas Fey, conductor. 
Hänssler Classic CD 98.611 Recorded 2008.
Bohemian hornists in the middle of the eighteenth century were central in the establishment of the horn as a concert instrument with and within the orchestra. The appointment of the Bohemian hornist, Thaddäus Steinmüller, to the Esterhazy court ensemble in 1762 ushered in a period of significant horn writing from the bright light of the Esterhazy musical establishment, Joseph Haydn, then vice-Kapellmeister. In response to the new availability of so accomplished a player, Haydn composed the Horn Concerto, no. 1 (Hob VIId: 3) in 1762, and a few years later, he saluted the full complement of horns at his disposal in the Symphony 31 (Hob I 31), the “Hornsignal,” replete with four horn parts, often center stage. The later Horn Concerto, no. 2 (Hob VIId:4) from 1781 is dubious in its attribution to Haydn, and a generally less interesting work, in any event. These three works appear together in a recent installment of the complete Haydn symphonies series from Hänssler, highlighting the solo natural horn playing of Wilhelm Bruns.
Bruns is impressive in his confident execution, sureness in extreme registers, both high and low, and technical command. And that technical command leads to some creative touches, as well, such as the multiphonic chords that appear in two of the cadenzas. He is at his most musical in the slow movements of the concertos, with well-controlled lyric lines. In a few instances in the fast movements the playing seems heavy on athleticism and light on grace, with a strongly hammering articulation the most obvious manifestation. To some the result will doubtlessly seem exuberant; to others it will seem overly aggressive. Given the horn’s topical associations with the out-of-doors and especially the hunt, it is easy to imagine the interpretative challenge of knowing how much of the open-air style to bring indoors; here, Bruns frequently opts for the excitement of the horn’s more robust nature, but one might wonder if a less stentorian approach might not have been equally engaging.
The most memorable parts of the recording are the symphony’s “Adagio” and “Finale.” The adagio is beautifully elegant, with finely controlled horn playing in dialogue with a notably nimble and fleet solo violin. The “Finale” is a set of theme and variations, offering an engaging sense of inventiveness and charm in ample quantities. The individual variations are marked by colorful shifts in the concertante orchestration with paired oboes, solo cello, solo violin, solo flute, horn quartet and unexpectedly even the double bass all on display. The horn passages, on their own or with the oboes, are satisfyingly congenial, indeed, underscoring the range of possibilities in the horn’s transition from its iconic past to its more lyrical future.
-- Steven Plank 

Two Horn CDs by Jeroen Billet

The Royal Brussels Hornsound: Flemish Romantic Music on Period Instruments.; Fuga Libera FUG 550, 2009. Featuring Luc Bergé and Jeroen Billiet, horns, with Bart Cypers, Frank Clarysse, Mark De Merlier, Bart Indevuyst, Miek Laforce, Bert Vanderhoeft, Johan Van Neste, horns; Gunter Carlier, Joost Swinkels, trombones; Diederil De Rouck, conductor. Recorded June 2007, Chapel of St. Vincent Cloister, Gijzegem, Belgium.
Repertoire: Grand Octuor pour six cors et deux trombones, Martin-Joseph Mengal; Octuor pour huit cors chromatiques, Léon Dubois (1859-1935). Mengal instruments: Horns: Jiracek copy of Courtois, Paris ca. 1800; A. Jungwirth copy of Raoux, Paris ca. 1795; Guichard, Paris ca. 1830; Courtois neveu, Paris ca. 1820; Jungwirth copy of Courtois, Paris ca. 1820; trombones: after Hofmeister ca. 1800. Dubois horns all built by F. Van Cauwelaert, Brussels: horn in Bb “Liègeois,” ca. 1900, 1890; horn in F “Gantois,” 1900, 1890, 1920; two-piston “Gantois” in F, ca. 1870.
This recording is the result of recent research in the history of the horn and horn-playing in Belgium. Heading the research is Jeroen Billiet whose recent dissertation, 200 Years of Belgian Horn School? A Comprehensive Study of the Horn in Belgium 1789-1960. ( 2008), is a seminal work on the subject. This recording features Billiet’s horn teacher at the Royal Conservatories in Ghent and Brussels, Luc Bergé, and several other colleagues performing larger horn ensemble music from two distinct historical periods of horn repertoire—the natural horn of the early to mid-1800s and the valved horn around the turn of the 20th century.
Martin-Joseph Mengal (1784-1851) was born in Ghent and made his way to Paris in 1803 to study the natural horn at the Paris Conservatoire where his teacher was Frédéric Duvernoy. He went on to a respectable performing career in several ensembles in and around Paris, and then moved into conducting. In 1835, he returned to Ghent to become the first director of the Ghent Concservatory. Mengal’s Grand Octuor was composed roughly 1817-1820. The style is clearly patterned after the music of his composition teacher Antonin Reicha, and is reminiscent of the music of his classmate at the Conservatoire, Louis-François Dauprat. For those who know Dauprat’s music, the resemblance to his monumental Sextuor is obvious, even to the six movements in similar structures and pacing to (fast-minuet-variations-slow-minuet-fast). One noteworthy difference is Mengal’s more conservative approach to the use of crooks, using only B-flat alto, F, and E-flat horns, a far cry from the armload required by the ensemble in Dauprat’s work. This use has the effect of perhaps limiting some of the harmonic choices made, and the overall timbre is more consistent and less varied. Still, it is clear that Mengal took one of Dauprat’s primary goals, to write good music for horns, to heart and produced a wonderful substantive work for horns. The average length of the movements is five minutes, making the total composition a major, 30-minute piece.
The performance of this piece on this recording is outstanding and provocative. All performers are in clear command of their instruments, and the sounds produced on the French instruments, both originals and reproductions of Raoux, Courtois, and Guichard instruments of the time, are bright, compact, and forthright. There are no apologies made for stopped notes, which I find gratifying on a personal level as this is how the composers knew it would sound when they wrote it. Luc Bergé’s leadership is apparent, but the confidence and maturity of all performers is also obvious. The texture is a bit different with trombones in the mix. The character of the low range is a bit brighter and (obviously) more even than if longer-crooked horn were used (as Dauprat did). As many know, creative use of low crooks would make all that the trombones play possible on horns, but in this case, with the larger numbers, using trombones is a path of lesser resistance. In all, this is a great step toward reviving Mengal’s previously unknown gem.
Léon Dubois (or Du Bois, 1859-1935) was a Belgian composer, organist, and conductor. He won the grande prix de Rome in 1885 and subsequently became music director of several Belgian opera houses. Later, he became director of the Brussels Conservatory in 1912. The three movements of his Octuor for eight valved horns were composed separately, in 1885, 1888, and 1894 respectively, and are clearly influenced by the German practice of using eight horns in orchestral music of the time. They are dedicated to the horn teacher at the Brussels Conservatory at the time, Louis-Henri Merck, an important figure in the evolution of Belgian horn playing.
These are serious compositions for octet, and at 5:00+ for the first two and 9:00+ for the last, the three make a strong statements regarding the confidence that Dubois had in the hornists around him. Despite being written separately, there is a melodic connection between the first and third works. Both are on the faster, heroic side, and the middle octet is certainly a slower, lyrical contrast at first. The character of the first is a sort of romping waltz with contrasting trio. The second begins lyrically but builds in intensity to the end. The third begins with alternating fanfares and lyrical phrases, giving way to a sort of majestic hunting style in 6/8 that occasionally revisits the slower lyrical style. The movement ends the way it began, with a heroic flourish. The overall style is quite mainstream Romantic, with some interesting harmonic twists, but nothing overly adventurous, despite the composer’s availing himself of the chromatic instruments.
For this piece, Bergé and his colleagues all use original horns built ca. 1870-1920 by the well-known Brussels maker Van Cauwelaert. There are several models in use, including Van Cauwelaert’s “Liégeois” model, built in high B-flat, with a lighter sound, and his “Gantois” model, built in F with two and three valves, and a bit of a compromise between the smaller-bore French and larger German types. Since the music is constructed mostly in two four-voiced choirs, the mix of lighter horns on top with more full-bodied sounds below is a wonderful blend, and the connection to the brighter, more compact natural horn sound of the past (and the Mengal piece) is obvious. Once again, the performers are clearly comfortable with these instruments and play with authority—it is a glorious sound on these glorious pieces. Dubois’ Octet is published by Robert Ostermeyer Musikedition ( and both works, the composers, and the horns are described more fully in Jeroen Billiet’s dissertation. Billiet is also one of the performers on this terrific CD.
De Herfst blast op den horen/The Fall now blows its horn. Klassieke Concerten-Phaedra CD, In Flanders Fields collection 65, 2010. Jeroen Billiet, horn; Jan Huylebroeck, piano and ophicleide; the Mengal Ensemble. Recorded Pomme Charelle, Maldegem, Belgium, March 2010.
Repertoire: Sonate in E, op. 18, by Joseph Ryelandt; Romance, by Martin-Joseph Mengal; Allegretto, by Serge Gaucet; Chasse, by Jules Busschop for four horns, keyed trumpet, and ophicleide; Romance, by Hendrik Waelput; Sixième Duo pour cor et piano, by Martin-Joseph Mengal; Intermezzo-Barcaolle, by Auguste Dupont; Zomeravond (Summer Evening), by Joseph Ryelandt for horn quartet. 
Instruments: Billiet Horns: Courtois frère, Paris ca. 1830 (Mengal, Busschop); Willson CS251 double horn for rest; Piano: Bösendörfer Imperial, 1885.
The Mengal Ensemble: Jeroen Billiet
Bart Indevuyst (Jiracek model, Bohemia/Alexander 103)
Mark De Merlier (Courtois Neveu Ainé ca. 1825/Kruspe Erfurt ca. 1930)
Frank Clarysse (Jungwirth model after Courtois/ Alexander 103)
Steven Bossuyt (keyed bugle in B-flat, Guichard, Paris ca. 1840)
Jan Huylebroeck (11-keyed ophicleide in C, Gautrot Ainé no. 507, ca. 1865)
This recording is another result of Jeroen Billiet’s recent dissertation, 200 Years of Belgian Horn School? A Comprehensive Study of the Horn in Belgium 1789-1960. ( 2008). This time, solo music is featured with a few chamber works, and Billiet himself is the featured performer. The repertoire is as interesting and provocative as the performances. 
Joseph Ryelandt (1870-1965) composed his Sonata for valved horn in E and piano in 1897. There are two movements, the first of which is slow, dark, and lyrical, with an almost modal feel to the harmony. The second movement begins with an aggressive flurry of activity, giving way to a longer lyrical section that gradually builds in intensity, peaks and then starts over again, eventually finishing very gracefully. The piece is very chromatic in melody and harmony, contributing to a weltschmerz that is in keeping with the time in which it was written. At thirteen minutes, this sonata is a substantive recital piece.
Martin-Joseph Mengal’s Romance began its musical life in the 1810s as the second part of his first horn concerto but was arranged around 1900 as a separate movement for horn and piano by Ghent horn teacher Charles Heylbroeck (1872-1945). One can hear the Parisian salon influence, the same found in Dauprat. The piece has a beautiful melody wonderful pacing. 
Allegretto by Serge Gaucet (1866?-after 1914) was composed around 1900 and dedicated to Liège horn teacher Mathieu Lejeune (1859-1935). Beginning with a flashy hunting horn figures and some nice echo effects, this two-minute piece follows through with a steady build to an energetic ending.
Jules Busschop (1810-1896) wrote his Chasse for keyed bugle, four natural horns in two different keys, and ophicleide around 1840. The piece starts slowly, but soon the rousing hunt begins. The mix of timbres is warm and wonderful, and this well-crafted three-minute piece is almost over too soon.
Hendrik Waelput (1845-1885) composed Romance for horn and orchestra for Ghent horn teacher Jean Deprez (1844-1901). Later, the piece was arranged for horn and piano and it became a popular examination piece at many Belgian conservatories. With its beautiful long lines, it is easy to see why it was popular.
The Sixth Duo for horn and piano by Mengal (1784-1851) has basically three movements: a substantial Allegro, an interesting theme with four variations, and a quick finale. At a total timing of over 20 minutes, the piece as a whole becomes a major recital piece. Though somewhat more original and less reminiscent of Dauprat and Gallay, the style is still well within what was expected in mid-19th-century salon performances. The first movement tends to ramble a bit, but the variations of the second movement are very entertaining in their variety and technical demands, especially the final can-can. The finale is both fiery and lyrical in all the right ways, and a great ending to this major work.
Auguste Dupont (1829-1890) composed his Intermezzo-Barcarolle for his colleague at the Brussels conservatory, Louis-Henri Merck (1831-1900), around 1880. The Intermezzo begins dramatically with horn and piano separately, and eventually come together for a calmer but eventually passionate section. Around the middle of this eight-minute piece, the horn has a fanfare-filled soliloquy, followed by more lyrical outpouring. Finally, the first lyrical theme returns for a closing visit and the piece ends quietly and gracefully. This is a wonderful solo with lots of “meat on its bones.”
The final selection on this terrific CD is another work by Joseph Ryelandt, Summer Evening for horn quartet. This previously-unknown work was re-discovered by Ulrich Hübner. Composed around 1900 for four valved horns, the work is appropriately sentimental, a satisfying ending to a very satisfying recording.
As the source for most of the biographical information provided above, Jeroen Billiet’s program notes are brief but thorough in presenting these previously little- or unknown works. His commitment to revive these works by these Belgian composers is much appreciated. Also much appreciated are his performing capabilities on both valved and natural horns. One supposes that some of the valved horn works would deserve on of the Belgian-built horns, e.g., by Van Cauwelaert, that Billiet himself has demonstrated considerable prowess on the Royal Flemish recording reviewed above. Regardless, his performances and those of his colleagues are spectacular. Buy this one for the historical perspective, the repertoire, and the performances.
-- Jeffrey Snedeker, Central Washington University
Central Washington University
Ellensburg, Washington


La Fête de Saint Hubert: Deutsche Naturhorn Solist

La Fête de Saint Hubert (Masses for Saint Hubert)

Label: Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (MDG 605 1576-2)
Recorded: May, 18-20, 2009, Christuskirche Mannheim

Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten: Wilhelm Bruns, Stefan Berrang, Thomas Berrang, Sascha Hermann, Tilman Schärf, Michael Armbruster, Lars Mechelke, Ferenc Pal, Michael Sebert

Johannes Michel, Organ, Steinmeyer Organ, Christuskirche Mannheim 1911

The recording of four settings of the Mass for Saint Hubert released this year by the Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten and organist Johannes Michael is a fantastic addition to any hornist’s CD collection. The four masses included on the recording represent music written specifically for the hunting horn by Gustave Rochard (1866-1924), Tyndare (1858-1921), Albert Sombrun (1870-1922), and Jules Cantin (1874-1956). The source materials for the hunting horn parts come from examples given in treatises that the composers wrote for the hunting horn. The organ part however, was improvised and composed by the organist. While the organ part is an addition (due to the fact that these masses would likely have been heard outdoors where an organ would not have been present), the performers have otherwise striven to present a recording of these masses as they were designed by their composers.

The horn playing on this recording is both bold and sensitive. At many times the music calls on the horn players to evoke imagery of the hunt and the performers rise to the occasion with some delightfully raucous playing. These moments are beautifully balanced with passages of intense beauty and religious solemnity and the Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten excel in these passages as well. The moments of lyrical solo and duet playing that are heard throughout each mass are wonderfully vocal. During the Offertoire of Rochard’s mass, a horn solo intones short calls that seem to be echoes of offerings brought by the hunter-saint himself. The players of the low horn parts have a full, round tone that provides a stunning foundation for the ensemble and their playing rivals that of the bass tones coming from the organ. Particularly hair-raising are the bell tones played by the ensemble in Rochard’s and Cantin’s Cloches.

Also of interest in this recording is the combination of French and German musical traditions. The Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten chose to record these masses by French composers on their German Parforcehorns, pitched in E-flat. But they also chose to stand with their bells pointing toward the audience, as is the French tradition. This kind of mindful choice of instrument, performance set up, and authentic representation of the music itself are perfectly suited to the kind of “natural acoustics” that the MDG label prides itself on. The liner notes contain a wealth of information on the music and the author, Wilhelm Bruns, leader and founder of the Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten, explains well the choices the group made regarding the music itself, the instruments they play, and the performance set up. The liner notes also include a full breakdown of the manuals and pedals of the Steinmeyer organ at Christuskirche Mannheim. Unfortunately, there is no information on the Parforcehorns that the group is playing.

The only drawback one might find in this recording is the nature of the music itself. For example, the rather monochromatic tonality of the CD as a whole is a byproduct of the hunting horn’s small capability as a chromatic instrument. Also, the music itself can seem a bit clichéd because the composers each rely on similar traditions and parent sources for portions of their melodic material. That said, when the value of the recording as a resource and the spectacular playing displayed on it are weighed against the drawbacks mentioned above, they are extremely minor. This recording by the Deutsche Naturhorn Solisten and Johannes Michel is an extraordinary record of four important pieces in the hunting horn canon and definitely worth the investment.

- Eric Brummitt