The Romantic Horn

Richard Watkins (horn), Julius Drake (piano) (Signum Classics)

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The Romantic Horn
Beethoven: Horn Sonata, Op. 17; Dukas: Villanelle; Glazunov: Reverie; Poulenc: Elegie; Schumann: Adagio and Allegro; F Strauss: Nocturno, Op. 7; Scriabin: Romance; R Strauss: Andante; Vinter: Hunter’s Moon
Richard Watkins (horn), Julius Drake (piano)
Signum Records SIGCD556   65:03 mins

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As Richard Watkins points out in his informative notes, the Romantic piano-accompanied horn repertoire is relatively small – so small in fact that Beethoven’s Op. 17 Sonata gets in under the wire despite its overtly Classical leanings. Far more importantly it receives a delightfully engaging performance here, offsetting Watkins’s opulent warmth against Julius Drake’s sparkling pianism, with passing moments of earthy good humour embraced with alacrity.

Schumann’s beguiling Op. 70 Adagio and Allegro is especially challenging for the horn, and although the opening section might have radiated even more beguiling poetic intimacy, the succeeding Allegro possesses a thrilling sense of forward momentum and no-holds-barred bravado. Dukas’s Villanelle is another virtuoso horn classic, whose exuberant dancing comes bracingly to life here, topped by a daredevil tempo-injection for the final bars. No less captivating is a gloriously unrestrained performance of Gilbert Vinter’s Hunter’s Moon and a hauntingly intense reading of Poulenc’s emotionally uncompromising Elégie.

The remainder of the programme focuses on the horn’s lyrical voice, with Strauss father and son (Franz and Richard) in their respective Nocturno and Andante demonstrating an instinctive feel for the instrument that inspires some of the most eloquent playing in this recital. That said, one senses a special point of emotional contact with two glorious Russian miniatures: Glazunov’s Rêverie and Scriabin’s early Romance.

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Julian Haylock