Last Saturday, a sizeable audience was regaled with a special concert featuring Spanish horn player José Garcia Gutierrez and English pianist Philip Walsh. Performing works by F. Strauss, Beethoven, Schubert, Abbott, Vella, Debussy and Dukas, this was a highly intellectual and elitist performance that left nothing to chance. Displaying perfect synchronisation and understanding, the performance flowed naturally and the musicians found no difficulty at all adapting and changing styles when this was requested of them. Starting off with Strauss’s Nocturne, a haunting work that fully brings out the tonal and dynamic capabilities of the horn, a tranquil mood was immediately established and was indeed sustained throughout the rest of the concert.
Beethoven’s Sonata in F Major op.17 is light and fairly uncomplicated, at least in its expressive language and generally cheery moods. The horn and piano parts are anything but easy. The first movement is marked Allegro moderato and features attractive, if not particularly memorable music. The ensuing Poco Adagio, quasi andante presents a ponderous mood and skilful writing for both instruments. The Rondo finale may be the best movement of the three: certainly the horn part is colourful and ebullient, and the piano accompaniment is deftly imagined. As a whole, the work came across as complex but never complicated, taut and compact, emotionally and intellectually demanding. Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro in Ab op.70 came next. The Adagio is based on a melody that takes advantage of the valve horn’s ability to play precise half-step notes. It has the demeanour of Schumann’s wistful songs, requiring stamina to sustain the lyrical phrases. The rondo-form Allegro consists of a bright, vigorous main section, which utilizes the full range of the horn in rapid fire figures, alternating with more poetic episodes that share melodic and rhythmic motives with the Adagio. This work was performed with the right dose of aplomb and enthusiasm, faultless and impeccable in its delivery.
Abbott’s Alla caccia fully explores the different modes of expression on the horn while Vella’s three-part Soliloquies is a work that is very difficult both technically and musically, but one that José delivered with confidence and ease. A pianoforte solo, Debussy’s wonderful Claire de lune is that type of dreamy, nocturnal work that does full justice to the composer’s impressionistic style. Philip Walsh injected the right dose of emotion into his interpretation. Dynamically, he was completely in control throughout and the rippling cascades of notes were executed with scintillating precision. It was indeed very quintessentially Impressionistic, fully capturing Verlaine’s text to which the work was initially set. The concert came to a fitting close with Dukas’s Villanelle, a work which explores the whole emotional gamut of both the horn and the pianoforte. A resounding applause at the end betrayed the audience’s tremendous satisfaction and the performers gave an encore by performing most endearingly Saint-Saëns’s ‘Dying Swan’.
Such high-calibre performances are hard to come by but when they do come along they are simply wonderful.