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A Surefire Winner

A recital by Lin Jiang
and Benjamin Martin -
recommended by

'... superbly performed.'

Encore my good sir - Lin Jiang, horn; Benjamin Martin, piano. © 2008 Melba Recordings

Shanghai-born Australian Lin Jiang is unquestionably a jewel in the crown of OZ concert music. At twenty two, he is already regarded as one of most exciting horn soloists of his generation.

Here he is with a fascinating, uniquely diverse recital; happily brought to us with Melba Recordings' customary artistic and technical flair.

Listen -- Schumann: Allegro (Op 70)
(track 2, 0:00-1:00) © 2008 Melba Recordings

Of course today's great horn players; Hermann Baumann, Bernd Heiser, Stewart Rose, Myron Bloom, Barry Tuckwell, Peter Damm -- and lamented artists, Alan Civil (1929-1989) and Dennis Brain (1921-1957) have given us a swag of fine concerto recordings.

But recorded recitals such as Melba's are few in number. The outstanding recent exceptions are those of Chicago born (1963) Eric Ruske on Albany Records:

Virtuoso Music for Horn and Piano -- Albany Records TROY456; Eric Ruske (horn) and Pedja Muzijevic, piano; recorded January 2000 in New York City

Eric Ruske -- Just me and my horn -- Albany Records TROY903; recorded July 2006 at the Masonic Temple in Boston, MA

Back 'down under' however, Lin offers comprehensive variety in his hour long display -- among the composers -- Schumann, Schuller, Hindemith, J S Bach and a jolly Grainger-esque tidbit, Le Basque by Parisian composer Marin Marais (1656-1728).

To set the ball rolling, Lin and accompanist Benjamin Martin perform Schumann's popular Adagio and Allegro Op 70 (1849), believed to be the first notable work written expressly for the valve horn, introduced three decades earlier, in 1818.

At the outset, Schumann's Adagio is a perfect vehicle for Lin's lambent tone and laser-like focus; equally the Allegro spotlights his combination of expressive phrasing and virtuosic agility.

Listen -- Maxwell Davies: Presto (Sea Eagle)
(track 5, 0:28-0:50) © 2008 Melba Recordings

In 1982 Peter Maxwell Davies wrote his fiendishly difficult solo Sea Eagle for twenty-year-old Richard Watkins, now holder of the Dennis Brain Chair at the Royal Academy of Music. In three short movements Davies conveys something of the majesty of the Scottish white-tailed 'Sea Eagle', extinct (except in captivity) from 1919 till its reintroduction in 1975.

83-year-old Gunther Schuller, at one time principal horn with the Cincinatti Symphony and then the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, began his recording career working for legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis (1996-1991). His beautiful Nocturne (1943) takes the horn to its upper reaches. It also shows how fortunate Lin is with an accompanist as conspicuously sensitive as Benjamin Martin.

Listen -- Schuller: Nocturne
(track 6, 0:35-1:27) © 2008 Melba Recordings

Esa-Pekka Salonen's Horn Music is aptly named; viz -- it's neither one thing nor the other. The eight-minute piece has little bits of everything. Perhaps Salonen should stick to conducting.

No horn recital should be without some reference to the legendary, heaven-sent British horn player Dennis Brain. He was tragically killed on 1 September 1957 while driving his Triumph TR2 home to London after performing with the Brain Wind Quintet at the Edinburgh Festival. Within a week, Poulenc, who was visiting Britain, began writing his moving memorial Elégie; a special round of applause for including this tribute.

Listen -- Poulenc: Elégie
(track 8, 4:36-5:42) © 2008 Melba Recordings

The Hindemith Sonata for Alto Horn and Piano (1943) is clear evidence of the composer's rare understanding and affinity with brass instruments; he wrote sonatas for each instrument of the family. Hindemith's inclination was to progress from dissonance, and finally resolve in consonance. The four concise movements here are, respectively, calm, lively, slow and lively; a radiant work superbly performed.

Lin is unfazed by whatever hair-raising technical demands are thrown at him as evidenced in the dazzling arrangement of Bach's 'Gigue' from the 3rd Cello Suite and in the world première recording of Encore, My Good Sir. The tailormade work by his contemporary (University of Melbourne) conducting and composition student -- Thaddeus Huang -- proves an intriguing piece despite the no-brainer title. Lin requested an easy item that sounds difficult. On that score it had me fooled. If you're even slightly taken by the French horn snap 'Good Sir', it's a surefire winner.

Listen -- Thaddeus Huang: Encore, My Good Sir
(track 16, 2:01-2:45) © 2008 Melba Recordings

Copyright © 1 February 2009 Howard Smith, Masterton, New Zealand




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