Review - A Bunch of Crooks by John Frith for 4 hand horns

edb 0104023 Horn Club series

How can anyone resist a piece written for four hand horns with a title like that? In scoring for hand horns pitched in different key, John Frith is in fact following the distinguished line of horn player/composers like Gallay and Dauprat whose pieces, dating from the first half of the 19th Century are a tour de force of composition, and when played properly on hand horns, a really exciting experience for player and listener alike.

Frith's pieces can, of course, be played on modern horns: there is no law against it as far as I know, but they surely have an extra frisson when played as the composer intended. He writes excellently for hand horns, though some of the writing needs experienced players to bring it off. Having said that, though, they rarely go beyond the limits set by Reicha in his famous trios, except just once or twice, when Frith can't quite resist incorporating some of the jazzy slides that (maybe surprisingly) hand horns are so good at.

The four pieces are all quite short, the first, a little fanfare, is very short indeed, while the other three are written in contrasting styles. No.2, Pastoral, is sort of post-Romantic, reminding me a little of Schoenberg's musical language in Gurrelieder, only much shorter of course, while the thrid, Chorale, has a tang of Hindemith about it. The most obviously accessible is the final piece, Ostinato, which sounds like a Frippery on speed. None of it is the kind of thing you'd expect hand horns to do, but somehow it works. Bravo!

John Humphries for 'The Horn Player', British Horn Society, Spring 2017

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