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Barry Kilpatrick
American Record Guide, March 2009

This recording has three new works that were composed for Argentinean-born Nury Guarnaschelli, solo horn with the Vienna Radio Symphony. Its conductor Gottfried Rabl (also conductor of the new-music ensemble Die Reihe) asked Roland Freisitzer, Norbert Sterk, and Thomas Heinisch to write new horn concertos. The resulting works inhabit soundworlds somewhere between modernist, abstract, and utterly strange.

Freisitzer’s two-movement Music for horn and 11 musicians (2007) is more of an ensemble work with prominent horn part than an actual concerto. It opens with a static Adagio that consists of strangely disembodied, though richly textured musical fragments. Most are only a few seconds long and are repeated several times. We are told that the material is exactly the same as in a Freisitzer quartet for flute and strings, but that it sounds totally different because of the different instrumental forces. The ensuing Allegretto is more continuous and faster, but it involves just as much repetition as I. All in all, this is a very odd yet thoroughly captivating work. The horn part requires precision and security—not a problem for Ms Guarnaschelli.

The notes (in tortured translation) offer information about Thomas Heinisch’s Chimera for horn and chamber ensemble (2007)—at least, I think they do (they mention neither his name nor his piece). The subtext is nature vs civilization, and nature wins. Norbert Sterk’s ...and illuminated the dark for horn and ensemble (2006) is not without occasional tonal references—a triad is heard now and then—but it mainly has the horn putting forth pitches and gestures, the ensemble echoing and expanding. As with the other two new works, this is more of a horn-led ensemble piece than a concerto.

Those works leave me rather cold, but the last two are quite enjoyable. Kurt Schwertsik, one of the founders of Die Reihe, composed In Celtic Style for horn and small orchestra in 1975 at the request of horn player Robert Freund. The piece was intended for alphorn, and while Ms Guarnaschelli plays it on the valved horn, she does use some of the higher harmonics that would make a listener wonder about her intonation. The four-movement work is a fascinating combination of rustic and modern.

The most immediately enjoyable work is the last, a new Horn Concerto by Argentinean composer Roberto Pintos. Infused with tango elements and scored for a colorful mix of instruments, the work sings and dances winsomely.

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