A new recording of Mozart’s horn concertos arrived this week and while we’re hardly short of library contenders I think there’s something a little special about this newcomer. It’s from Pip Eastop on the natural horn - the valveless length of tube with a mouthpiece at one end, the player’s hand inserted at the other, between them manipulating the instrument’s natural harmonics to get all the chromatic notes. Eastop calls playing the handhorn, “wrestling with nature”, observing that while the modern valve horn will cruise comfortably through the music the handhorn simply won’t cooperate with at least half the notes Mozart threw at it, and it’s that struggle to find them that results in the colour, drama and changes of timbre that Mozart expected. "Eastop tells us that before the horn sprouted valves its character was altogether rougher, wilder, more unpredictable, playful and idiosyncratic - more Robin Hood, he thinks, than James Bond - and he certainly captures that swashbuckling sense of adventure rather than the suave sophistication of the modern instrument.
Exciting performances, the hand-stopping negotiated w fabulous facility. Peter Hanson leads the Hanover Band and it’s his period-instrument string quartet, The Eroica Quartet, that joins Eastop for a spirited and colourful performance of Mozart’s Horn Quintet. That’s well worth hearing in its own right so I might try and make sure you get the chance in the next few weeks … but it’s a major bonus after the four concertos - and they’re new from Hyperion.