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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791): "Complete Horn Concertos"

Roger Montgomery, horn
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Dir: Margaret Faultless

rec: Oct 25, 2012 (live), London, Queen Elizabeth Hall
Signum Classics - SIGCD345 (© 2013) (70'04")
Liner-notes: E
Cover & track-list

Concerto in D (KV 412 & 514 / 386b); Concerto in E (KV 494a) (fragment); Concerto in E flat (KV 370b) (fragment); Concerto in E flat (KV 417); Concerto in E flat (KV 447); Concerto in E flat (KV 495); Rondeau in E flat (KV 371)

One of the features of music history of the 18th century is the promotion of some instruments to a fixed part of the orchestra. One of these is the horn. It is not quite clear to what extent horns of some kind were played before the mid-17th century. Iconographic evidence and references in scores are not conclusive, and leave much doubt as to which extent they are anything like the horn which appears in compositions from the late 17th century onwards.

Like the oboe the origins of the horn are in France. This has led to the instrument being called 'French horn'. The first fully circular horns (trompes de chasse) seem to have appeared in a ballet by Jean-Baptiste Lully first performed in 1664 at Versailles. A different kind of horn was used in German-speaking lands. In 1680 the Bohemian Count Franz Anton Sporck discovered the French horn and considered it a completely new instrument, probably also because of the way it was played. According to Renato Meucci, in the article on the horn in New Grove, "[the] existence of two parallel musical traditions, one French and the other Saxon and Bohemian, is borne out by the most famous horn works of the early 18th century, Vivaldi’s concertos and Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto. These works, in which the triple rythms of the French style are juxtaposed with the duple time that was more common, east of the Rhine, have a further bearing on the subsequent history of the instrument, in that the pitch of F was adopted."

In Germany the horn became fully established in the early decades of the 18th century; in 1713 Johann Mattheson stated that "the lovely, majestic hunting horns have now become very fashionable." Dresden became an important centre of horn playing; it is quite possible that Georg Philipp Telemann payed tribute to this tradition in the third production of his Musique de table which includes a concerto for two horns. However, the number of concertos for horn in the 18th century is rather limited. In the 1740s the Mannheim court orchestra established itself as one of the finest in Europe and played a crucial role in the stylistic development of the genre of the symphony. Thanks to the participation of some brilliant Bohemian horn players the instrument was given increasingly important parts in orchestral music by composers of the Mannheim school.

One of the greatest Bohemian horn players of his time was Giovanni Punto, whose original name was Jan Václav Stich. He was widely admired, and when he played in Paris in 1778 he met Mozart. The latter was so impressed by Punto's playing that he composed the Sinfonia concertante KV 297b with solo parts for flute, oboe, bassoon and horn (now lost). However, it was Joseph Leitgeb who was the main source of inspiration for Mozart to compose music for the horn. It is the wind instrument which appears most frequently in a solo role in Mozart's oeuvre.

Leitgeb - sometimes called 'Leutgeb', but he himself wrote his name as Leitgeb - was born in 1732 in Vienna; nothing is known about his formative years. In the 1750s he was already making a name for himself as a horn virtuoso. In the early 1760s he gave performances of horn concertos by several of the leading composers of the time, such as Leopold Hofmann, Dittersdorf and Michael Haydn. In 1770 he made three appearances in the Concert Spirituel in Paris where he performed a concerto from his own pen which has not survived. His playing earned high praise, as a review in the Mercure de France attests which pointed out his ability to "sing an adagio as perfectly as the mellow, interesting and accurate voice".

Mozart probably met Leitgeb in the late 1760s when both were members of the court chapel of the archbishop of Salzburg. Despite the difference in age the two became close friends, and that comes to the fore in various remarks in the scores of Mozart's horn concertos. He also took into account the skills of Leitgeb and the latter's limitations as a consequence of advanced age. In his liner-notes Stephen Roberts states that the range of the solo parts become narrower in the later concertos. The first complete concerto is KV 417, dated 27 May 1783. There are two other concertos which have come down to us complete: KV 447 and KV 495, dating from 1786 and 1787 respectively.

The rest of the pieces on this disc has been handed down in fragmentary form. Only the opening allegro from the Concerto in E (KV 494a) is extant; it dates from late 1785 and is considered the first horn concerto. Part of this movement is not orchestrated, and in this recording Roger Montgomery has filled in the missing parts. The Concerto in D has the number KV 386b in the new edition of the Köchel catalogue. It includes the opening allegro KV 412 and the unfinished rondò KV 514 which has been finished and partly reworked by Franz Xaver Süßmayr. The rondo is performed here first in Süßmayr's version, then in a new reconstruction by Stephen Roberts.

This disc ends with two further reconstructions from his pen. Only 172 bars of the opening allegro from a Concerto in E flat (KV 370b) are extant; the solo part is almost complete, with eight or nine bars missing. It is one of Mozart's earliest horn concertos, dating from 1781. The horn part is stylistically different from the concertos Mozart composed for Leitgeb; it has been suggested that this piece was written for another horn player, probably Jacob Eisen, a member of the Vienna court chapel. He could also have been the inspiration for the Rondeau in E flat (KV 371) which could be reconstructed after the discovery of sixty missing bars.

I have checked whether another complete recording of Mozart's oeuvre for horn and orchestra exists, but to my knowledge this is the very first. That makes it an indispensible addition to the Mozart discography. I have nothing but admiration for the playing by Roger Montgomery. The fast episodes are especially demanding, and he masters them with impressive ease. But he equally impresses in the slow movements, with true cantabile playing. In comparison I am a little disappointed by the playing of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Over the years it has been my experience that the quality of its interpretations highly depend on who is in charge. Under the baton of a great musical personality like Charles Mackerras it rose to great heights. Margaret Faultless direction is alright, but nothing more. The orchestra is just accompanying, and that seems to be not enough in music like this.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

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