Herman Jeurissen, horn; Roy Goodman, Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. Brilliant Classics 94644.
You might think that a fellow like Roy Goodman, who has specialized over the years in conducting early music and leading period-instruments ensembles like the Hanover Band, would when working with a modern-instruments group like the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra perhaps overindulge himself in historical practice and go all lickety-split on us. In these performances of Mozart’s Horn Concertos, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Not that Goodman doesn’t give us historically informed readings, but they are also graceful and relaxed, with horn player Herman Jeurissen making a most elegant contribution.
Mr. Jeurissen plays on a modern valved horn, and while his tone is not as plummy as many horn players I’ve heard, it is pleasantly warm and resonant. Goodman’s direction follows Jeurissen’s lead, fluent and articulate, the Netherlands musicians performing with precision, and all of them maintaining a sensible pace throughout the concertos.
Jeurissen and Goodman begin the program with the Horn Concerto No. 2 in E flat, K.417 because despite the numbering, Mozart wrote it first. As the composer did with the other three horn concertos, Mozart wrote No. 2 for his friend, the virtuoso horn player Joseph Leutgeb. He wanted to give Leutgeb something that would show off his friend’s unique abilities on the natural horn, in the meantime the composer writing sometimes crude, joking, mocking comments about his friend throughout the score. This was the Mozart we see in the movie and stage play Amadeus. Leutgeb apparently didn’t mind the teasing, and the two men remained friends until the composer’s death.
Anyway, under Goodman No. 2 has a snappy gait yet still sounds mellifluent and urbane. In the finale’s familiar hunting theme Jeurissen is appropriately playful while pursuing the generally urbane approach of the interpretation.
No. 3 in E flat, K.447, No. 4 in E flat, K.495, and No. 1 in D, K.412 continue in a like manner, with Jeurissen making the Romance of No. 3 particularly affecting.
Coupled with the Horn Concertos we find some of Mozart’s unfinished horn works, reconstructed or completed by Mr. Jeurissen: the Concerto Movement in E, K.494A; the Horn Concerto in E flat, K.370B/371; and, just for fun, the Rondo: Allegro of No. 1 with Mozart’s original text read by Giorgo Mereu.
One minor thing that continues to annoy me about most albums of Mozart’s Horn Concertos is that by themselves they don’t quite offer enough material to fill out a disc. So, fair enough, the people involved usually include other bits and pieces of Mozart horn music as accompaniment, but which they most often spread out all over the place, as we see here. Personally, I’d rather just hear the four concertos and then at the end listen to anything else the program had to offer. Also, I’d rather hear the four concertos arranged numerically rather than chronologically. Of course, I can always program my CD player to play back the music any way I like it, but who wants to go to the trouble? Yeah, I’m just being difficult. Sorry.
At mid price, Jeurissen/Goodman’s rendering of the Horn Concertos offers good value. The only snag is that there are many other worthy contenders in a crowded field, including Dennis Brain’s celebrated mono account with the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI), Lowell Greer with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (Harmonia Mundi), Alan Civil with the Philharmonia Orchestra (EMI), Ab Koster and Tafelmusik (Sony or Newton Classics), Barry Tuckwell and the English Chamber Orchestra (Decca), Eric Ruske and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Telarc), and a ton of others. Decisions, decisions.
Brilliant Classics licensed the recording from Olympia, who made it in 1996 at Beurs van Berlage, Amsterdam. The sonics are round and slightly soft, extremely smooth, and very comforting. The engineers miked the players at a modest distance, narrowing the stereo spread somewhat but replicating a fairly realistic presentation. The horn sounds well integrated with the orchestra, never too far out in front nor enveloped by the other instruments. Although inner detailing could be better, the overall aural effect is quite pleasing.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: