Horn ensembles probably arose from the hunt servants being called upon to provide entertainment for the hunters. Certainly by the late 17th and 18th centuries such ensembles were being written down. The Bohemian composer Anton Reicha (1770 - 1836) wrote 24 horn trios (op.82) and 12 trios for two horns plus cello or bassoon (Op. 93). In 1811 the distinguished French horn player Louis-Francois Dauprat (1781-1868) decided to improve his composition skills and spent three years studying with Reicha. The two went on to become colleagues at the Paris Conservatoire. Jacques-Francois Gallay was the most distinguished of Dauprat's pupils. He was born in Perpignan in 1795, learning the horn from his amateur horn player father. Something of a prodigy, Gallay eventually decided to study at the Paris Conservatoire where the calibre of its hand-horn players was such that the new valve horn remained unpopular in France. On graduation Gallay become one of the leading performers of the time.
The first trio opens with a lively Allegro Marziale, in which we are introduced to the lovely colours of a work for three hand-horns. On these horns, chromatic notes are created by hand stopping, so that each note is a slightly different colour. The style of the music is very much reminiscent of Weber. Next comes a gentle, lyrical Andante con moto with the horns creating a fascinating texture. The minuet is a wonderfully lively, jig-like piece, great fun with a lyrical trio. The finale is rather lively with a sort of hunting-tune feel to it.
The Allegro maestoso of the second trio opens with a grand gesture before developing as a rather Mozartian Allegro albeit with some dramatic moments all played with lively energy. The Adagio is gentle and lyrical with a lovely sense of movement in the parts. This is followed by an imaginative scherzo with a flowing trio. The finale is melodious again with a rather Mozartian cast to the first subject.
The third trio starts lyrically gentle before developing into something livelier. The graceful Andante has something of a march about it, with the minuet being rather misterioso with more than a nod to Weber. Finally a jolly hunting-call finale with some nifty twiddly bits.
Whereas the trios had all four horns in the same key, for the quartets Gallay uses four horns each in a different key. During the 19th century it was common for orchestras to use horns in pairs, having two each in different keys. Here Gallay has four different. Using the four different keys on the horns increases the harmonic range of the composition and this is a far more developed and complex work. The quartet is dedicated to Rossini (who himself wrote a work for four horns). It was premiered at a soiree in 1833 held at the house of the piano maker, Dietz. Gallay and his former teacher Dauprat were amongst the players.
The quartet's opening Allegro is a lively piece, but quite complex musically, and we are treated to a whole array of hand stopping making a lovely textures. The Andante is a gentle, minor key piece which is rather evocative with some subtle textures. The scherzo is a rather jolly hunting gallop with a lyrical middle section. The work concludes with a spirited finale.
The ensemble, Les Chevaliers de Saint Hubert was formed specifically to record the Gally quartet and comprises four of London's finest period horn players, Anneke Scott, Joseph Walters, Jorge Renteria-Campos and Martin Lawrence. They are playing on horns all made by the Parisian firm of Raoux, including one by Marcel-Antoine Raoux from the Bate Collection. Gallay's own horn (still preserved in Paris) was made by a member of the Raoux family.
I have to confess that I was not certain what to expect when I first listened to this disc. I was familiar with the world of the hand-stopped horn from Anneke Scott's recording of instruments from the Bate collection (see my review), but an ensemble of horns. In fact, I was charmed and delighted. The textures and sounds arising from the combinations of different hand-stoppings and open notes, results in an entirely new sound world.
The playing from all four horn players is superb, each showing amazing control and producing some amazing bravura moments. These are not the greatest of works of art, you can sense in them moments when Gallay is wondering what will show off the horns best rather than what will work musically. But they represent an important genre and deserve a hearing. In these performances, they do more than that and I shall certainly be listening to this entrancing disc again.
The disc is being launched at a concert on 21 November 2013, at 1.05pm at St Olave's Church, 8 Hart Street, London EC3R 7NB when the Chevaliers de Saint Hubert will be playing one of Gallays trios and the Grand Quatuor plus a trio by Anton Reicha.
Jacques-Francois Gallay (1795-1864)
Trois grands trios pour trois cors en Mi, Op. 24
Three grand trios for three horns in E, Op. 24
1. Allegro marziale [3:16]
2. Andante con moto [2:26]
3. Menuetto et Trio – Allegro Vivace [3:08]
4. Allegro vivo [1:25]
5. Allegro maestoso [2:53]
6. Adagio non troppo [3:46]
7. Scherzo et Trio – Allegro vivace [3:50]
8. Allegro agitato [2:24]
9. Allegro moderato [3:23]
10. Andante grazioso [2:22]
11. Menuetto et Trio – Allegro moderato [2:53]
12. Finale – Vivace con brio [2:35]
Grand Quatuor pour quatre cors en différents tons, Op. 26
Grand Quartet for four horns in different crooks, Op. 26
13. Allegro con brio e risoluto [6:47]
14. Andante con moto [6:35]
15. Scherzo et Trio – Presto [3:02]
16. Finale – Vivace [4:05]
Les Chevaliers de Saint Hubert (Anneke Scott, Joseph Walters, Jorge Renteria-Campos and Martin Lawrence)
Recorded at Musee Nationale de Port Royale des Champs, France 8-9 April 2011 and 22-24 October 2011.
RESONUS CLASICS RES10123 1 CD [54:43]
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