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CD Review


Hermann Baumann, horn
1 St. Paul Chamber Orchestra/Pinchas Zukerman
2 Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Iona Brown
3 Gewandhaus Orchestra Leipzig/Kurt Masur
4 Esterházy String Quartet
5 Leipzig Gewandhaus String Quartet
6 Folkwang Horn Ensemble
7 Leonard Hokanson, piano
Philips 476959-0 ADD/DDD 2CDs: 71:20, 73:45
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This is another release in Universal Classics' "Perspectives" series – two discs for the price of one, and giving an overview of a particular musician's discography. Baumann made many recordings for Philips in the 1970s and 80s. Most of them are out of print now, so this collection is a great way to catch up with Baumann, without paying the extortionist's prices that some used CD dealers charge. Concertos and concertante works dominate this collection, although the second disc finds room for chamber works by Mozart and Beethoven, as well as for Beethoven's rare but worthwhile Horn Sonata. Baumann is adept at playing both today's instruments and antique horns, such as the corno di caccia or hunting horn. The horn literature reached a climax around the time of Mozart and Beethoven, when the horn was quickly evolving. There's an underplayed body of high Romantic works for the horn – recorded by Baumann but not represented here, although we are given the tasty and very Russian Horn Concerto by Reinhold Glière, of "The Red Poppy" fame.

Baumann was born in Hamburg in 1934, and did not begin playing the horn until well after World War Two. (He started out as a singer and a jazz drummer). He played in various German orchestras throughout the 1950s, finally breaking out into a solo career in 1964. For three decades he kept a high profile. A stroke in 1993 slowed him down, but only a little, and as far as I know, he continues to perform, although there are fewer recordings now than in his heyday.

Baumann is an excellent musician, both as a soloist and as a collaborator in chamber works. The hallmarks of his playing are singing tone – he can sound operatic! – and the smoothness and evenness of his tone production, even on "authentic" instruments. Few horn players avoid giving a note here or there an "explosive" quality. It can be exciting, but it sometimes indicates an inability to control the instrument or one's breath. Baumann is not that kind of a player. He emphasizes the instrument's mellow, peaceable qualities. (American players, on the other hand, often make a virtue out of playing stridently.) Some players give the music on these CDs more fireworks, but Baumann, with his consistently stylish approach to these works, sets a good example for young musicians, and these recordings should please general listeners greatly.

The recordings on these discs were made between approximately 1984 and 1994, and they find Baumann in his prime, and working with excellent colleagues. This is particularly true in the works by Glière, Strauss, and Weber, where Baumann teams up with Kurt Masur and Leipzig's Gewandhaus Orchestra. The barking dogs (!) who participate in Leopold Mozart's Hunt Symphony are not credited, however, nor are the gentlemen who shoot off the muskets. The short booklet note is better than nothing, but not much.

Copyright © 2006, Raymond Tuttle