|Les Chevaliers de Saint Hubert|
Until I heard their recent recording, I was totally unfamiliar with the world of horn ensembles. Gallay's music is written for hand stopped horns even though the valve horn was already in existence; French horn players held on to the hand stopped horn for far longer than anyone else. They seemed to relish the greater array of colours that hand stopping brings. Because notes not on the horns harmonic scale are produced by stopping the end of the horn with the hand, each note has a different colour and timbre. Gallay, who was a supreme virtuoso on the instrument, exploits this to perfection.
The group started with a delightful fanfare written for the patron saint of horn players, the first movement, Allegretto, from Gallay's Le Saint Hubert Fanfares en Trios pour trois cors en Mi.
As a performer Gallay was first horn in the orchestra of the Teatre Italien, giving performances of operas by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. And it is this operatic background which is detectable in his works. The first movement, Allegro maestoso, of his Deuxieme grands trios pour trois cors en Mi had a distinctly operatic feel to it. The work is in a minor key, so there was lots of hand stopping, a captivating combination of fabulous colours and perky rhythms. There was a gentle lilt to the Adagio non troppo, the music very evocative of Weber and romantic opera. This feel continued into the scherzo, suggesting rather mysterious doings in the forest, though the jolly trio was rather more like peasants roistering. Finally a rather Mozartian Allegro agitato, with the players displaying brilliant skill at articulating the notes.
The group were playing on four horns made in the early 19th century by the distinguished French family of horn makers, the Raoux family a rare chance to hear four such instruments played together.
The Bohemian composer Anton Reicha (1770 - 1836), who live in Paris and taught at the Conservatoire, was an important composer of music for horn ensembles. The group played on of his trios, the Trio No. 6 en Mi (Canon a 3) a rather charming canon on triple time with the players displaying a fine sense of legato in the long phrases.
Finally they played Gallay's Grand Quatuor pour quatre cors en differents tons in which each of the instruments is in a different key, thus giving Gallay a far wider selection of open notes to choose from, but rendering the act of composition one of mind boggling complexity. The brisk Allegro con brio e risoluto was very much like an operatic chorus. This was quite a large scale and complex piece with the horns displaying a lovely range of colours. The Andante con moto was a gentle, rather atmospheric march, quite densely textured with some lovely stopped effects in the inner parts. The scherzo was a lively hunting moment, full of technically demanding busy passages for the horns, with a gentler trio. For the finale, Allegro agitato, we were back in the opera house with a very lively main theme complemented by a gentler second subject and an amazing accelerando at the end.
Hearing this music live brought out not only the range of colours and the fascinating sound-world of an ensemble of hand horns, but also the brilliant technical skill of the players. I certainly hope to hear more.
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