NFB Horn Quartet's CD Hornithology
Review by Carolyn Bruse, Cornucopia, June 1999
Hornithology is a new CD from Gunther Schuller's GM Recordings, a label devoted to posing "daring and fascinating 'what if' questions to today's contemporary music audiences," according to their Web site. The CD contains a scant 36 minutes of music for horn ensemble (a pet peeve of mine); however, the quality of both the playing and the music is superb.
The NFB Horn Quartet members all studied with John Barrows and continue to subscribe to his musical ideals. Riccardo Almeida, William Hoyt, David Kappy, and Jay Wadenpfuhl are all players of the very highest caliber. The playing on the CD is outstanding, especially given the technical requirements of this music.
For Gunther Schuller's Five Pieces for Five Horns, the Quartet is joined by guest artist Barry Tuckwell. Five was published in 1952, at a time when there was little new music written for horn ensemble. It takes advantage of the new techniques that were being developed in the fifties, both compositional (serialism) and instrumental (valve tremolandos, glissandos, quarter tones, and the like).
If you think you don't like twelve-tone music, this might change your mind. The music is at times delicate and tender, at times agitated and brassy, but always idiomatic and characterized by transparent phrasing and a clear sense of direction. The last piece is in unison right up to the final cadence. It lays out the tone rows in the most explicit manner, yet makes sense musically.
Sonata for Four Horns (1957) by the late Sir Michael Tippett is a brilliant and exuberant piece, very challenging to perform. The four movements explore traditional horn figures, such as hunting calls and fanfares, but with a contemporary twist. At cadences, overlapping thirds coalesce into triads, making the piece sound almost tonal and distinctly British. Tippett's debt to Benjamin Britten's Serenade is evident in the use of cascading triplet figures in the first movement. The third movement is nocturnal, very slowly paced. It has the unusual time signature of 21/16, allowing Tippett to play with the placement of motives within the metric framework.
Textures (1988) is by Jay Wadenpfuhl, a member of the quartet as well as the Boston Symphony and the NEC faculty. Textures draws on various musical roots, including African, Latino, and big band music. It also employs considerable improvisation, including optional percussion; the CD does not name the percussionist. I thought the momentum faltered during the early part of the improvisational section. However, later I was impressed by how the improvised voices conversed, then blended seamlessly into the notated recapitulation
Carolyn Bruse is a composer, writer, and admirer of music for horns. The CD is available from Osmun Music.
Background on NFB Quartet
Back to Index