Thanks in part to the success of the Digital Concert Hall, the Horn Quartet of the Berliner Philharmoniker could easily be the most recognizable horn quartet anywhere. They are rock stars with embouchures.
Their new disc is called "Four Corners." The title derives from an expansion of one of its own tracks in which Michael Barnett arranged tunes from the "four corners" of the British Isles: England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland. The resulting concept became a collection of sonic souvenirs and tributes based on the touring schedule of this ensemble which takes them to the four corners of the globe.
Fully one-half of the twenty-two track on the disc are arrangements made by Berlin Philharmonic Horn Quartet member Klaus Wallendorf. The eleven tracks that he was responsible for creating give us a unique insight into his musical personality. His arrangements span from the formal in Anitra's Dance and Solveig's song from Peer Gynt to off-beat humor like his arrangement of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."
My favorite Wallendorf arrangement is "Sous le Ciel de Paris," where a clever and elaborate figuration in fast triplets never gets in the way of the tune or the attitude of the waltz itself. Wallendorf's arrangements could easily become a compendium of possibilities for anyone thinking about sonorities for four horns.
Of the other material, I enjoyed the Joshua Davis arrangement of Walzting Mathilda with a soulful and jazzy big-band style low horn solo played by Sarah Willis.
I don't understand the concluding E-flat major chord of Florian Janezic's arrangement of Nessun Dorma--the chord forces the piece to sound like it meant to end on V. Perhaps the original context contained other Puccini arrangements that would have made this idea work, but within this context it crashes into the mysterious D minor opening of "Kalinka" on track 17. This was a rare example of discontinuity. The disc is otherwise quite effective in its tonal and stylistic design, and as a result the music flows without sounding overly segmented.
The disc itself opens like a present. The booklet insert folds out into a twelve-panel double-sided collage of photographs, tour markings and impromptu notes. In one photo Stefan Dohr is standing next to a smiling Buddha. Underneath the photo is a traditional Chinese recipe (written in Chinese) for making beef wonton soup. This particular recipe only makes twenty wontons...most horn players I know would need forty.
Wit and wackiness mix with stunning virtuosity on this disc which would make an excellent gift for any music lover with an off-beat sense of humor.