Brahms/Schumann: Horn Trio in E flat; Andante and Variations; Adagio and Allegro for Horn and Piano

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COMPOSERS: Brahms/Schumann
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: Horn Trio in E flat; Andante and Variations; Adagio and Allegro for Horn and Piano
PERFORMER: Vladimir Ashkenazy (piano), Vovka Ashkenazy (piano), Radovan Vlatkovic (horn), Hans Maile (violin), Georg Donderer (cello), Mathias Donderer (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 433 850-2 DDD
These two discs have the Brahms Horn Trio in common, but the buyer’s choice is more likely to be influenced by the couplings than by the comparative merits of the performances. As far as the Brahms is concerned, the most significant difference is that Naxos has adopted a much closer recorded perspective than Decca. The effect is to give the performance more punch, and a greater semblance of authority. But the Naxos players cannot compete with the Decca artists in the central, elegiac slow movement, supposedly inspired by the death of the composer’s mother. Ashkenazy paces this beautifully – stretching it by almost a minute – and demonstrates an inner strength which gives the entire work enviable coherence. For all its brash enthusiasm, the Naxos performance affords no such insights.

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In filling the other half of the disc (the Brahms is less than 30 minutes), Naxos has opted for obscure corners of the repertoire. Frédéric Duvernoy revolutionised horn-playing techniques in the late 18th century, but his compositions for the instrument, as exemplified by the Trio No. l, were anodyne. Heinrich Herzogenberg’s Trio for Horn, Oboe and Piano is slightly more entertaining, with the oboe, especially in the last movement, adding melodic sparkle.

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Decca, in choosing Schumann’s Andante and Variations for horn, two pianos and two cellos, has successfully combined rarity with accomplishment. This evocative and brooding piece lurks in the shadows of the romantic soul, emerging only occasionally into the bright light of day. It is a lovely performance of a rare treasure. Christopher Lambton