Brahms: Horn Trio (CD review)

Also, Mozart: Horn Quintet (adapted for horn, violin, piano). Jeff Nelsen, horn; Ik-Hwan Bae, violin; Naomi Kudo, piano. Opening Day ODR 7384.

The three musicians who assembled for this recording are outstanding artists in their own right. Horn player Jeff Nelsen is a member of the famed Canadian Brass; prizewinning violinist Ik-Hwan Bae is Professor of Violin and Chamber Music at Indiana University; and fellow prizewinner, pianist Naomi Kudo, performs extensively throughout Europe, Japan, and the United States. Together, they form a well-knit ensemble that sounds as though they've been playing together much longer than they have.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) wrote his Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano in E-flat major, Op. 40, in 1865, the year his mother died, his only other composition at that time being the German Requiem. There is a pervasive solemnity that hangs over the entire Trio. In fact, Brahms derived one of the themes in the last two movements from an old folk song his mother sang to him in his childhood.

The melancholy begins with the somber opening Andante, the mellowness of Nelsen's horn sounding a mournful note against the sorrowfulness of Bae's violin and Kudo's accompanying piano. The Scherzo that comes up next lightens the mood considerably, and the players add a delightfully zesty flavor to the proceedings without entirely disrupting the still-serious tone.

Brahms apparently intended the third-movement Adagio as a kind of funeral dirge. It certainly comes across that way, the violin, especially, practically weeping, the horn grieving in sympathy. Then, the Finale wraps everything up in lively fashion with an affirmation and commemoration of life. At least that's the way the players here present it, and it makes a fitting segue into the Mozart work that follows it.

The Mozart Horn Quintet in E-flat major, K.407 (K.386c), adapted for horn, violin, and piano by Tony Rickard, is an entire change of pace from the Brahms piece. Mozart's work is not only witty, virtuosic, sensitive, and thoroughly charming, we can see in it the composer's waggish nature, Mozart seeming to relish in the fact that the participants tease one another with their instruments. If you're familiar with his Horn Concertos, you'll hear a lot similarities here, too.

Recorded in March, 2010, in Christ Church Deer Park, the sound appears moderately distanced, just enough to provide both detail and bloom. We get the impression of being at a live occasion, with a somewhat warm, resonant acoustic, the three instruments blending smoothly, if losing a little something in ultimate transparency. Yet the recording is close enough to supply a pleasantly realistic impact.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa