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Cue Sheet entry


Worthy horn and recorder SACDs I reviewed for Fanfare a year or more ago ...

RHAPSODIE – FANTASIE – POÈME * Ben Jacks (hn); Barry Tuckwell, cond; O Victoria; Queensland O * MELBA MR 301117 (hybrid multichannel SACD: 71:11)

DAMASE Horn Concerto; Rhapsodie. KOECHLIN: Poème. DUKAS Villanelle. SAINT-SAËNS Morceau de concert. MARSHALL-HALL Phantasy

Ben Jacks, principal horn with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, seems poised to become the next big thing in the horn world. Or so this new disc suggests; not only does Jacks implicitly bear the seal of approval of a celebrated predecessor, Barry Tuckwell, who serves as this program’s conductor, but Jacks’s playing stands on its own: lithe, technically impeccable, and displaying the varied coloring you’d be more likely to expect from a vocalist.

Nearly half this disc is devoted to works by Jean-Michel Damase (b. 1928), a composer who may be familiar to aficionados of woodwinds and harp, but perhaps to few other listeners. If you know his sonata for flute and harp, which has been recorded several times (most notably in the 1960s by Rampal and Laskine), you’ll know what to expect from the two horn scores here, dating from 1987 and 1995: a blend of angularity and French lyricism, comfortable for Poulenc fans, and often demonstrating melodic roots in Fauré. Damase wrote the Rhapsodie in 1987 upon a suggestion from Barry Humphries, best known for his comedic alter ego Dame Edna. There’s nothing funny about this music, though; Humphries requested something “inspired by the ocean and the atmosphere of the coast” to be performed by Barrry Tuckwell. Like Debussy’s La Mer, it recounts the passing of a day at the seaside, and its great technical demands pose no apparent problems for soloist Jacks. Damase’s more abstract and traditionally structured Horn Concerto from 1995 features some of Jacks’s loveliest playing on this disc.

Charles Koechlin’s Poème, from 1927, is as substantial as either Damase work (each lasts roughly a quarter of an hour). This is Koechlin’s orchestration of his Horn Sonata, intended to be played by an orchestra’s principal hornist from his or her usual seat rather than next to the conductor. The soloist weaves through a woodwind-rich texture rather than dominating the stage, giving Jacks several opportunities to display his fine legato, with soloist and conductor maintaining careful balances throughout.

The remaining items are more modest in duration, though not necessarily in technical demands. Jacks may lack a distinctively French tone, but he has just the right Gallic aplomb in the familiar and viciously difficult Villanelle of Paul Dukas, presented here in a sparkling and colorful new orchestration by Paul Terracini. The same can be said for the other standard-rep piece here, the Morceau de concert of Saint-Saëns. There’s one last novelty to mention, a lovely but relatively unfocused Phantasy (as the Brit-oriented spell it) written in 1905 by George William Lewis Marshall-Hall, a London-born contemporary of Dukas who became a major musical figure in Australia during the first decade and a half of the 20th century.

Melba’s DSD surround sound is spacious and full, and the packaging, as usual for this Australian label, is elegant but not overdone. In every respect, this is a fine release. James Reel

DIALOGUE: EAST MEETS WEST * Michala Petri (rec); Chen Yue (xiao, dizi) * OUR RECORDINGS 6.220600 (hybrid multichannel SACD: 67:46)

YAO HU Rong (Fusion) M NIELSEN Stream RUI LI Peng Zhuang (Sparkling-Collision) SEJLUND Butterfly-Rain GANG CHEN Greeting from Afar MONRAD EastWest-project 16 SIQIN CHAOKETU Yan Gui (The Wild Goose Returns Home) ROFELT Circonflexe RUOMEI CHEN Jue (Very Rare and Fine Jade) MURASHKIN Cascades

Contemporary Chinese pieces alternate with works by young Danes on this recording teaming the European recorder family with its Chinese analogs, the xiao and dizi. All of these pieces were written, mostly by composers under 30, in 2007 especially for this project spearheaded by the two performers. Most of the Chinese pieces sound distinctly Chinese, through the composers’ choice of scales and use of note-bending and other Asian playing techniques. A couple of them quote Chinese melodies, but none of this is travelogue music. Peng Zhuang, for instance, sounds like an extract from Orff’s Schulwerk. The Danish pieces, I suppose, are also typical of their culture, yet the greatest interest here is not hearing who uses a pentatonic scale and who does not, but how the various composers cause the two wind instruments to interact. Rong, for example, has Michala Petri and Chen Yue engage in independent but parallel play, whereas Stream establishes a closer, more interdependent relationship between the two lines. The Greeting from Afar by Chen Gang (not the composer by the same name responsible for the “Butterfly Lovers” Violin Concerto) is a playful piece calling for the highest instruments from the dizi and recorder families, while Circonflex requires the players to switch among the full range of their instruments. Some of the pieces, like Cascades, are lovely, rippling, and fluid, while others are a bit more thorny. This is certainly not New Age meditation music, but neither is it strenuously avant-garde. Both artists play superbly, and the audio quality is notable for what it lacks—there’s no high-frequency distortion, no extraneous noise, no strange coloration, nothing but the natural sounds of the instruments recorded in the flattering acoustics of a Danish church. James Reel

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About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.

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Classical Music