Discover Danzi (concert and CD)

Discover Danzi (concert and CD)
Concert: St John’s, Smith Square, 22 October 2015
CD: Franz Danzi: Music for Piano and Winds Vol 2
Devine Music. DMCD004. 70’05

Concert: Steven Devine, fortepiano, Jane Booth, basset horn, Anneke Scott, natural horn;
CD: plus Katy Bircher, flute, James Eastaway, oboe, Ursula Leveaux, bassoon & Jane Booth, clarinet.

CD: Franz Danzi: Grand Sonata in F for fortepiano and basset horn Op. 62; Sonata in E minor for fortepiano and horn Op. 44; Quintet in D Op.54/2 for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and piano.

The St John’s, Smith Square concert by ensembleF2 was part of a series of events to promote the second in their series of Franz Danzi recordings. The concert included the first two of the CD pieces, but replaced the latter’s concluding Quintet in D with Mozart’s piano Adagio in B minor (KV540), played as an introductory prelude to the Horn Sonata. Both concert and CD contrast two of the most evocative sounds of the early classical period – the basset horn and the natural horn, the similarity of their names bearing no relation to their distinctively different tones.

The basset horn is a wonderful example of the maxim not to judge anything by its appearance. It looks like a piece of badly botched plumbing, bassethornbut produces the most sensual butterscotch sauce sound, oozing smoothness and luxuriousness. This was well in evidence in the opening piece of the concert (and CD), Danzi’s Grand Sonata in F for fortepiano and basset horn (Op. 62). The order that the instruments are named is deliberate; the pianoforte is very much in charge, with the basset horn only occasionally taking over the melodic line, and then usually losing it pretty quickly. In the opening movement, for example, it is well into the Allegretto before the basset horn gets a proper melody, but is then soon reduced to a Corelli bass following by an oompah bass. That said, its contribution is distinctive, even if it is often pouring balm on the virtuosic flurry of notes from the pianoforte. The central Larghetto is a powerful affair with the basset horn more in command. It builds to a grand central climax before subsiding.

hornThe natural hand horn is a magnificent instrument; the naturally occurring notes of the harmonic series being added to by moving the hand inside the bell of the instrument, changing both pitch and tone. Every note can sound deliciously different, ranging from buzzy and brassy to subdued and melifluous. Although Danzi’s Sonata in E minor for fortepiano and horn (Op. 44) has the same listed order of instruments as the basset horn Grand Sonata, the natural horn has much more of a say, as announced in its ‘here I am’ opening fanfare. The central Larghetto has the piano very much in an accompanimental role below an extended horn melody while, despite lots of piano flourishes, the horn holds its own during the jovial final movement.

The playing of the solo instruments in both of these Sonatas was exemplary, with Jane Booth and Anneke Scott both managing to balance details of articulation (so important in music of this period) with musical expression. But it was inevitably the expressive fortepiano playing of Steven Devine that was the feature throughout the concert, making some clearly tricky passages sound effortless.

On the CD, the final piece is Danzi’s Quintet in D (Op.54/2) for the unusual combination of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and piano. Again it is the fortepiano that is to the fore, the other instruments frequently doing little more than providing colouring or brief commentary on the fortepiano Fritzpiano’s contribution. The CD was recorded in Finchcocks, and uses that collection’s 1815 Johann Fritz fortepiano. On the ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it’ principal, some of the special effects of that piano are featured just before the end of the last movement, including bells, a drum and the oddly-named Fagotto, creating a buzzy bassoon sound from a sheet of paper that covers the lower strings. These Turkish sounds would have meant more to composers in Vienna, and have little to do with Danzi, but are good fun. The programme notes (in English only) include information about, and photos of, the instruments. The impressive CD cover art (by Emma Semmens) is based on the delicate, but fading, floral decorations inside the bell of Anneke Scott’s c1810 Raoux horn.

The CD is available from Devine Music (link here).

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