Works for natural horn & fortepiano
Anneke Scott, Steven Devine
Resonus Classics RES10267. 77’51
Ferdinand Ries: Grande Sonate in F major, Op. 34
Friedrich Eugen Thürner: Grande Sonate in E major, Op. 29
Friedrich Starke: Adagio und Rondo, Op. 105
Hendrik Coenraad Steup: Sonate in E flat major, Op. 11
The early years of the 19th-century saw the rise of pieces for horn and piano, following Beethoven’s 1800 Sonata in F major, Op. 17. Catching on to the coat-tails of Beethoven were composers such as the four featured on this Beyond Beethoven recording, all little known except, perhaps, to horn players. They were all close contemporaries, born within 11 years of each other, with links between themselves, Beethoven, and his Op. 17 Sonata. Anneke Scott and Steven Devine perform on original instruments: a c1810 cor solo by Lucien Joseph Raoux, and an 1815 fortepiano by Johann Peter Fritz from the Richard Burnett Heritage Collection, formally at Finchcocks and now in Waterdown House, the home of the Finchcocks Charity in Tunbridge Wells.
For those not familiar with the genre, it might be worth listening to the Beethoven Sonata before listening to this recording. It was apparently composed the day before its first performance and is not his finest work. The horn player Giovanni Punto, was much better known than Beethoven, who elicited this comment from a reviewer: ‘Who is this Herr Bethover?’.
Like Beethoven, Ferdinand Ries (1784–1838) was born in Bonn where his father had been one of the young Beethoven’s teachers. After the French occupation of Bonn, he moved to Vienna where he studied with, and assisted, Beethoven, helping to promote his piano music. His many travels culminated in an extended stay in London where he directed the London Philharmonic Society. His Grande Sonate in F was composed in 1811 in Kassel. The imposing opening movement is the longest on the recording and explores the dynamic and timbral ranges of the natural horn to good effect. A short Andante leads to a jovial Rondo finale.
Like Ries, Friedrich Eugen Thürner (1785–1827) was much travelled during the vicissitudes of the Napoleonic wars in Germany, which may be one of the reasons he suffered from mental problems for much of his life. His Grande Sonate was, like Ries’s, composed in Kassel, this time in 1812. It has a similar three-movement structure to Ries’s Sonate of the previous year, and features an extended horn range. The tuning and the wonderfully individualistic note colours of the natural horn are to the fore in the opening Allegro, as is the complex piano part. The rather brooding Largo molto makes a fine contrast to the concluding Rondo.
The other two pieces are more modest in scale, although Friedrich Starke (1774–1835) offers the most extended final Rondo of the four. He settled in Vienna and was a dining partner of Beethoven, during which Beethoven would often improvise on the piano. His own Grand Sonata is lost, leaving us this modest two-movement Adagio und Rondo, published around 1821. The opening Adagio is one of the darkest of the recording before it dissolves into a pleasant melody. The Rondo explores a wide variety of imaginative technical aspects of the natural horn and its musical history in the hunt and pastoral idioms. His incorporation of passages for a mute horn required one to be specially made for Anneke Scott, based on contemporary descriptions of the papier–mâché examples of the day. He also makes use of some of the advanced pianoforte developments of the time, which included five effect pedals, well interpreted by Steven Devine in this performance.
Hendrik Coenraad Steup (1778–1827) settled in Amsterdamm where he published this Sonata in 1820. The opening bars pay direct homage to Beethoven’s horn Sonata, while the central Andantino espressivo is given the title of Les Adieux. It was dedicated to Carl Aders, who had gathered himself an impressive list of artistic companions in London, and was witness to Steup’s daughter.
It is easy to misunderstand the technical difficulties of playing the natural horn in music of the complexity of these four pieces. Anneke Scott is an outstanding performer, interpreter and champion of the historic horn, and her detailed programme notes are a tribute to her background research. She is very ably supported by Steven Devine, his often virtuosic pianoforte playing going well beyond mere accompaniments.