on 20 August 2011
As a lapsed (failed?) horn player, I have several recordings of the Mozart set, including (of course) Brain & Tuckwell but Halstead's version is a bit special. The use of the natural horn (ie a horn without valves, where you use your hand in the bell to "bend" the note to fill in the gaps ), and his fine musicianship, way beyond merely playing the notes - turns this into something rather magical, and this magic is what music is all about. To be honest, a top player on a modern instrument can make them sound a bit easy, and losing the magic, but the extra colour and expression enforced by the use of a natural horn, and perhaps the extra difficulty makes the player put a bit more soul into it. I understand Halstead has made something of a speciality of natural horn / period instrument playing, and this certainly shows here. The band are also spot on. I only came across this one on Halstead's website whilst considering buying another horn and re-starting playing (he's a 2nd hand horn dealer as well as a top musician)
For me, this one is definitive ! Highly recommended.
Edit - some time after the review I finally did it and bought a horn from Mr Halstead - a very reasonably priced older Alex and very fine it is too. I can recommend his horn dealership as well as this fine recording.
I am always doubly pleased to encounter a period recording that I can heartily endorse, as in addition to its intrinsic aesthetic value, it gives me ammo against anyone who accuses me of me an anti-HIP dinosaur, inextricably wedded to Karajan, Knappertsbusch and Furtwängler. I earn even more bonus points through championing here a recording conducted by one of my bêtes noires, Christopher Hogwood, who hear directs a clean, punchy performance from the Academy of Ancient Music mercifully devoid of period tics and exuding real sense of light-hearted gaiety in playing this most upbeat of Mozart's music, mercifully free of whining, clipping or rushing.
The recording s already over twenty years old and it interests me that it was made only just after a much more traditional but equally enjoyable account by Claire Briggs with Stephen Kovacevich conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. The "collector's favourite" has of course long been Dennis Brain with Karajan but that is mono from 1953/4 and most of us want a more modern sound, too, even if nobody else quite exudes Brain's devil-may-care insouciance. Anthony Halstead is a period horn specialist and plays two different copies of original instruments with slightly different characteristics: a reproduction of an instrument by Stöhr, which has a brighter, more rasping tone than the Raoux copy, which is mellower and more rounded, like a muted trumpet and used for nos 1 and 4 and the Rondo K514 completed by Süssmayr. His tempi are sometimes very slightly brisker than we are used to but hardly noticeably so and if one misses the cleaner articulation a modern instrument can give the famous "hunting" Rondo of K495, the more flatulent sound of the authentic valveless horn is beguiling in its own way, especially when played with wit and charm. Halstead has a lovely smooth legato, too, sitting elegantly with Hogwood's unobtrusive, light-on-its-feet accompaniment.
on 24 December 2012
Ernst Hogwood-Blofeld, the Number One at SPECTRE (Sinister Period-Practice Enacted to Counter Traditional Readings Everlastingly) could smell tension as soon as he walked into the meeting of his Politburo. To his left sat Rene Jacobs looking dumpy. Sir Roger Norrington was beside him, scrutinising the score of the Bruckner Third (albeit upside down). Suzuki was further down the table, looking impassive. Claudio Abbado was sitting nearby: if it were not for the occasional blink of an eye, one would assume he was a cadaver that had been propped up in a chair. William Christie, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his protégé Thomas Fey also graced the room. At the other head of the table sat John Eliot Gardiner, looking snootier than usual. Yes, he's the man, Hogwood-Blofeld told himself. That sanctimonious bugger is about to spring a surprise and there's no-one in the room I can trust. And where in the hell is Mister Bigglesworth?
The meeting began on time. A quick survey was undertaken of new period practice releases to the market. The integration of EMI into Universal was also discussed. Jeggy cleared his throat and daintily called for the floor.
"My dear colleagues: I would like to raise an issue that's been bothering me for some time." He lowered his voice. "It concerns Number One."
The room fell silent.
"I recently undertook another self-gratifying - sorry, immensely gratifying Bach pilgrimage throughout Europe; oh, how soothing it was! In doing so, I came across this in a second-hand shop."
He flashed a copy of Hogwood-Blofeld's recording of the Mozart Horn Concertos with Anthony Halstead.
"For some time," he continued primly, "I've been concerned about our lack of direction here at SPECTRE - that's why I branched out into Brahms and Verdi on my own initiative. I'm also troubled about our beloved leader's workload."
He paused slyly.
"I listened to this CD and I have to say it's awful. In fact, it is almost evil. There is far too much to like about this disc from a traditional perspective. True, there is the occasional clipped phrase but there's not enough of them in my opinion. This survey could almost be considered a traditional reading albeit at a lower pitch. I was shocked to hear vibrato. Halstead plays with great panache and the concertos are superbly characterised; again, that is not what we stand for here as an organisation: where is the pallid, miniaturised Mozart that we cherish here at SPECTRE? The one thing to be said in its favour is that the completion of K 514 is a damp squib. This recording is worlds away from the Hogwood-Blofeld / Academy of Ancient Music who mauled our ears with their recording of Mozart's symphonies. Oh, what is the world coming to!"
Rene Jacobs dropped a pin on the ground at that point; it nearly deafened the room.
"It's time for a change," Jeggy said bluntly. "If Number 1 continues to make recordings like this, he'll end up being called Herbert von Hogwood. It's time I ascend to the leadership here at SPECTRE."
Ernst Hogwood-Blofeld smiled.
"You've had your say, Jeggy. Likewise I've been worried about you. You seem so cold and pale nowadays. Perhaps it's time to warm you up!"
He pushed a button. Everyone turned around in the expectation that Jeggy was about to be consumed by a fireball; nothing happened.
"Sorry about that Number One," Rene Jacobs squeaked. "I forgot to pay the gas bill again."
Number One raised his eyes to the ceiling.
"I am surrounded by numbskulls - nothing but numbskulls! What is the head of an evil organisation expected to do!"
Jeggy's nerves broke at that point.
"Soli Deo Gloria," he uttered piously before dashing out of the room.