Natural Horns at the QEH

Yesterday evening's concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment , conducted by Thomas Zehetmair, and included Haydn's Symphony no. 31, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 27, and Schubert's 4th Symphony.

The Haydn symphony is known as the 'Horn Signal' because it features many horn call and phrases, placing great demands on the players - particularly since the orchestra uses natural horns. These are like French Horns, but without valves (which were not introduced until 1814). When played simply, the horn can only produce the natural harmonic series of notes:

The intervening notes can be produced by the player placing his fist in the bell to modify the air-flow. This provides a surprising amount of flexibility, but takes great skill - the odd wrong note is common because of the difficulty of playing the instrument. The symphony is entertaining, with the horns having many chances to show off, and ending in a set of variations for various instruments - including, unusually, the double-bass.

The Mozart concerto, played by Alexei Lubimov on a period piano (I wish they would identify the date and make of the piano in the programme) demonstrated yet again the value of period instruments in this kind of work, showing the springiness and lightness which Mozart's concertos rarely receive when attacked with a full-sized modern orchestra and a nine-foot Steinway.

Schubert's symphonies are rarely thought of as requiring the period instrument approach, but his fourth was written in 1816, only 25 years after Mozart's death, and before valved brass and complex keyed woodwind were introduced. Though the orchestra is larger than in Mozart's day, the instruments hadn't changed by 1816 (valved horns were not yet common) and the work benefits considerably from the leaner sound. The Symphony is nicknamed 'The Tragic', which is misleading as it is lyrical and lively. All three works were played to the orchestra's usual high standard and made for a very enjoyable evening.

Posted: Thu - November 23, 2006 at 09:25 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM