Rhapsodie: Fantasie: Poème

John Sunier
Audiophile Audition (US)

This is a most unusual and welcome release from the Australian label which has both comedian Barry Humphries (Dame Edna) and Dame Joan Sutherland as members of its Foundation. Of the six works for French horn and orchestra, it brings us four which are either world premiere recordings or (in the case of the Dukas work) the world premiere of this particular version. The soloist is principal horn of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and has performed with every orchestra in Australia. The conductor was known as one of the leading horn players in the world—his recording of the Mozart horn concertos a classic alongside those of Dennis Brain—and he now concentrates on conducting.

The French composer Jean-Michel Damase is the primary focus of this collection of horn works. He has an admiration for Fauré and Ravel and has created a number of ballet scores, film scores and chamber works. He also won a Grand Prix du Disque for his piano recordings. His four-movement concerto was first performed in 1995 and explores the dramatic potential of the horn. Damase’ earlier Rhapsodie was commissioned by Barry Humphries, who describes Damase’ style as being in the Poulenc and Jean Francaix tradition.  He requested a work ‘inspired by the ocean...’ It depicts the passing of a day—peaceful for dawn and for dusk, but with a more animated central section whose difficult solo part was designed especially for hornist Barry Tuckwell.  Koechlin was heavily influenced by Fauré, with whom he studied composition. His Poème was written in 1927, and the composer described its first two movements as ‘set in the atmosphere of the Romantic forest of Weber or Heinrich Heine.’

I didn’t know that the French had held off on the development of the valve horn which was patented in 1818 and quickly used in the German-speaking countries. The Paris Conservatory continued to reach the valveless hand horn of Mozart’s day until the early years of the 20th century. Saint-Saëns’ Morceau de concert may have been written for the omnitonic horn, which had valves but allowed the player to still use hand horn techniques if he wished. Some of its passages are impossible to play on the natural horn. Marshall-Hall was a London composer and poet of the late 19th century, who also taught composition and was a music critic. His ten-minute Phantasy for Horn makes a fine conclusion to this enjoyable and edifying program of works for horn and orchestra, enhanced by excellent hi-res surround sonics.