Brahms / Trio & Beethoven / Sonata for Horn and Piano

This is an exceptionally good sounding chamber record on the RCA White Dog label, especially on side two, which earned a sonic grade of A++ to A+++. Side two has the Beethoven work for horn and piano, and it sounds about as real and natural as a chamber recording can. Side one is not quite up to the same sonic standards, but is quite good nevertheless, earning a very respectable grade of A+ to A++.

This title is so rare I had literally never seen one in my 25+ years as a dealer in audiophile-oriented recordings. The other bit of good news is that the vinyl is unusually quiet, playing as it does mostly Mint Minus. How many early RCA pressings can make such a claim? No more than five per cent I would think, if that.

Side Two

A++ to A+++, with a fuller piano, more space around the players and more energy overall. Hard to fault!

Side One

A+ to A++, clear and natural if a bit dry. Owners of tube equipment are more likely to get more out of this recording, the tubier the better.

Wikipedia Commentary and Background

Horn Trio

The Horn Trio in E-flat major, Op. 40, by Johannes Brahms is a chamber piece in four movements written for natural horn, violin, and piano. Composed in 1865, the work commemorates the death of Brahms’ mother, Christiane, earlier that year. However, it draws on a theme which Brahms had composed twelve years previously but did not publish at the time. The work was first performed in Zurich on November 28, 1865, and was published a year later in November 1866. The Horn Trio was the last chamber piece Brahms wrote for the next eight years.

Brahms chose to write the work for natural horn rather than valve horn despite the fact that the valve horn was becoming more common. The timbre of the natural horn is more somber and melancholic than the valve horn and creates a much different mood. Nineteenth-century listeners associated the sound of the natural horn with nature and the calls of the hunt. Fittingly, Brahms once said that the opening theme of the first movement came to him while he was walking through the woods. Brahms also learned natural horn (as well as piano and cello) as a child, which may be another reason why he chose to write for these instruments following the death of his mother.

In the first movement, Brahms emphasizes the simplicity of the opening theme by abandoning the structure of sonata form in favour of three slow sections offset by two shorter, more rhapsodic segments. Brahms also deviates from classical practice by adopting a slow-fast-slow-fast order of movements, perhaps looking back to the old sonata da chiesa form.

The Scherzo represents a lighter side of grief; since the work as a whole simulates the stages of mourning, the Scherzo serves as the reminder of happy memories. As in the first movement, Brahms uses the pitches of the E-flat overtone series to establish the theme. (This theme is found in some variation in every movement, most directly in the Finale.) The playfulness that the tempo suggests offers a break from the slow and somber surrounding movements. The contrasting trio section uses transposed material from a small unpublished piano piece (Albumblatt) which Brahms had written twelve years earlier, in 1853.

The Adagio mesto opens with four measures of solo piano in the low register of the instrument; this sets up the solemn, contemplative mood of the movement that is emphasized by the entrance of the violin and horn. The Adagio from the Horn Trio is said to be one of Brahms’ most impassioned and heartfelt slow movements.

The Finale contains the main theme that is present in the previous three movements, but it is prominently displayed in E-flat major in a lively tempo. The joy felt in the Finale symbolizes the recovery at the end of mourning.

Horn Sonata

Beethoven composed his Horn Sonata in F major, Op. 17 in 1800 for the virtuoso horn player Giovanni Punto. Beethoven was not well-known outside of Vienna at the time of this composition, and after a performance of the piece in Pest, played by Punto and Beethoven, a Hungarian critic wrote, “Who is this Beethoven? His name is not known to us. Of course, Punto is very well known.” This piece was composed for the rare combination of horn and piano, but is also scored for the more common piano and cello. The title on the score, is in fact “Sonata for Piano with Horn or Violoncello,” or, in French “Sonate pour le Forte-Piano avec un Cor ou Violoncelle.” This name is significant as the piano occupies at least as important a part as the horn; rather than functioning as a purely accompanying instrument.

Overall Sonic Grade:

Side One – A+ – A++ 
Side Two – A++ – A+++

Vinyl Grade:

1) Mostly Mint Minus 
2) Mostly Mint Minus

Cover Grade: 8 out of 10