Knussen: Horn Concerto; Flourish with Fireworks; The Way to Castle Yonder (Suite from Higglety Pigglety Pop!); Two Organa; Music for a Puppet Court; Whitman Settings; ‘… upon one note’

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COMPOSERS: Knussen
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Horn Concerto; Flourish with Fireworks; The Way to Castle Yonder (Suite from Higglety Pigglety Pop!); Two Organa; Music for a Puppet Court; Whitman Settings; ‘… upon one note’
PERFORMER: Barry Tuckwell (horn), Lucy Shelton (soprano); London Sinfonietta/Oliver Knussen
CATALOGUE NO: 449 572-2
One senses Oliver Knussen would have felt musically at home in Diaghilev’s circle in the early decades of this century. Much of the music written in the wake of his two fantastical operas, Where the Wild Things Are (1979-83) and Higglety Pigglety Pop! (1984-90), revels in the orchestral colours of Ravel, early Stravinsky and their ilk, as well as sumptuous added-note chords that give his music quite a French flavour. Yet while Flourish with Fireworks (1988-93) is an elaborate gloss on Stravinsky’s own Fireworks, other works on this disc cannily rework and allude to music from earlier periods, such as the plainchant of the Two Organa.

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The most substantial work here is the 12-and-a-half minute Horn Concerto (Knussen is not one for being compositionally long-winded), written for Barry Tuckwell in 1994 and revised a year later. Unlike the traditional battle of wits between soloist and orchestra, this enticingly beautiful work allows the horn to assert its supremacy gradually, by quiet insistence, and marks the culmination of Tuckwell’s career as a soloist (he retires this season) in style.

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The London Sinfonietta was born to play music such as this, and under the composer’s direction these recordings have the stamp of definitiveness. Matthew Rye