Mélodies, Vocalises & Chants by Gounod, Meifred & Gallay
Anneke Scott horn, Steven Devine piano
(Also Bordogni and Panseron)
With this CD and its very readable notes by Anneke Scott, we are dropped into the midst of the mid-19th-century Parisian debate about the relative merits of the natural and valved horn. Active as horn teachers in Paris were Joseph-Emile Meifred and Jaques-Francois Gallay, the former represented here by a set of vocalises from his horn method arranged from the works of Panseron and Bordogni and the latter by a series of very familiar Schubert songs arranged for horn and piano. The CD opens with music by Gounod, who also surprisingly wrote his own horn method, and who writes beautifully for the instrument. Anneke Scott plays natural horn and two- and three-valved piston horns, while her accompanist Steven Devine plays a lovely Erard grand piano. The authentic sounds of both instruments, played by these accomplished specialists, are very evocative and, if some of the music occasionally tends on the trite side, it is never less than beautifully played. The Schubert selection, arrangements by Gallay of lieder for his Horn Method, more than makes up for the musical shortcomings of the rest of the programme. Anneke Scott clarifies which horn she was using for which pieces on the CD, and it was interesting to read that Gounod seems to have recommended a degree of handstopping for certain notes, even when using a valve horn. This seemed to encapsulate the debate for and against valves as advocates of the natural horn felt that it had a unique tone, lost when valves were introduced. Also, listeners had become familiar with the different colours achieved by hand-stopping, so interesting to see that Gounod occupied the middle ground, enjoying the flexibility of the valved horn but retaining the character of the natural horn. A fine illustration of the distinctive effect of handstopping on the natural horn is to be heard in Schubert’s Marguerite (track 22), which turns out to be a particularly desperate-sounding account of Gretchen am Spinnrade. This enjoyable CD usefully illustrates an area of musicological research which is very popular at the moment and which marks an important turning point in the development of a key orchestral instrument.
D. James Ross