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Beethoven • Robin Holloway • Peter Seabourne: Horn Quintets

Ondřej Vrabec (horn); Pavel Bořkovec Quartet (Sheva Contemporary)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Horn Quintets
Beethoven: Horn Quintet, Op. 17 (arr. Comberti); R Holloway: Horn Quintet, Op. 135; Mozart: Horn Quintet, K407; Seabourne: Fall
Ondřej Vrabec (horn); Pavel Bořkovec Quartet
Sheva Contemporary SH281   71:40 mins


Following Ondřej Vrabec’s recording of solo and ensemble horn works by English composers Peter Seabourne (b1960) and Robin Holloway (b1943), here are the quintets they wrote for him. Vrabec’s detailed and committed performances here do them proud.

Seabourne’s Fall is rhythmically lively in three of its four movements, but often evasive in pulse, and variety tends to come from changing textures. Real feeling emerges in the slow movement, with a soaring horn line over searing harmonies and the occasional sound of birdsong in high harmonics.

Holloway’s Horn Quintet is more straightforward, on the surface at any rate, with a strong tonal pull, although not always quite in the foreseen direction, and melodies don’t always end up where you expect, although their development is logical and economic. As so often with Holloway, there are elusive echoes of earlier composers, but this is an accomplished work by someone at the top of his game.

In the arrangement of Beethoven’s Op. 17 Sonata, the strings give extra colour to the music, starting with their response to the striking opening horn call. They’re also able to match the soloist in sustaining a line, especially effective in the brief Andante and the final spirited Rondo, although ensemble could sometimes be tidier.

That’s less of an issue in the Mozart Quintet: phrasing is tighter, especially in the outer movements, and the strings have a pleasing blend and coherence. The substitution of a viola for the second violin gives a warmer sound overall, and Vrabec spins a long line in the song-like Andante, despite a few inelegant trills. In all, an unusual and enjoyable programme.

Martin Cotton

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