English Horn Expressions - Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia. © 2023 Navona Records

CD Spotlight

Meditative yet Impassioned

Music for solo cor anglais, heard by GEOFF PEARCE

'The playing in this collection of small pieces is exemplary and inspiring ...'


This is a very interesting recording, in the fact that it is for solo cor anglais - here called 'English horn' as they do in the US. It is an instrument often neglected outside its orchestral setting, although this is changing. So many of these works will be unfamiliar even to players of the instrument, and this recording will be welcome, not just for the beautiful playing of Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia. (She is the principal English horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra and is a student of the famed John de Lancie and also Louis Rosenblatt, a legendary player of the instrument.)

Most of the works featured on the disc are by living composers - the exception being the final two. There are sixteen tracks, and the works fall in the 2-6 minute length bracket.

The first work, The River, by Kevin Arthur Jnr, is just over five minutes and is by the youngest of the composers represented - born in 2004. It is an evocative work and I feel that it describes a river scene, with the river flowing by, at times perhaps speeding up a little, flowing over a shallow rock bed. There is playfulness and light through this work, the expressiveness of the instrument is showcased and some nice effects, such as harmonics, are utilised.

Listen — Kevin Arthur Jnr: The River
(NV6500 track 1, 1:14-2:02) ℗ 2023 Navona Records :

Next, The Prayer, by Lera Auerbach, is a lovely work that is meditative yet impassioned, and changes mood quite frequently.

This is followed by Dance on the Volcano by Robert Maggio. A spirited little dance, it reminds me a little of some of the pieces written for Diana Doherty by Ross Edwards. It requires a good sense of rhythm and deft fingers, and like all the other works, is beautifully played. There is a slow reflective middle section before the lively opening spirit returns.

Listen — Robert Maggio: Dance on the Volcano
(NV6500 track 3, 4:12-4:41) ℗ 2023 Navona Records :

Flowering Prairie (Crocus) by Steve Heitzeg is a small piece, mostly peaceful and a little melancholy.

Jenni Brandon wrote In the City at Night, evocative of both quieter places and those with more life. There are many moods and colour.

Grave Lamentoso describes Behzad Ranjbaran's piece pretty well. There is some lovely writing for the upper register of the instrument and again some great use of harmonics.

Oboist/composer Gilles Silvestrini writes beautifully for the instrument and his two little pieces, Sentier dans les bois and Le Ballet Espagnol, are delightful. There are references to a couple of orchestral works in the second one and it requires some very virtuosic playing.

Siciliana by Adolphus Hailstork starts with a quite long introduction before the Siciliana proper starts. The piece is quite pastoral in places, but also at times becomes more lively.

Listen — Adolphus Hailstork: Siciliana
(NV6500 track 9, 2:50-3:36) ℗ 2023 Navona Records :

Jimson Weed by Alyssa Morris was originally conceived for oboe. This work was written, like a number of other tracks on this album, by an oboist, and is one of the composer's Collision Etudes, inspired by female painters in the US and also the studies of Giles Silvestrini. The study nature of the work is apparent, and some 'extended techniques' are used to great effect.

This is followed by two works of Ayser Vançin, a Turkish oboist/composer domiciled in Geneva, of whose music I am very fond. These two reflective little pieces, entitled Chants de la terre and Reveil, are her response to two poems of Nazim Hikmet (1902-1963), a Turkish writer, humanist and poet.

Listen — Ayser Vancin: Chants de la terre
(NV6500 track 11, 0:00-0:52) ℗ 2023 Navona Records :

Snake by British composer Michael Berkeley is inspired by a D H Lawrence poem called 'The Snake', which was read prior to the first performance of the work in 1990, when it was performed by Nicholas Daniel. The poem is also presented in the album notes. This is a piece of great charm, a variety of moods and it employs some effective glissandi. It has to be my favourite work on this disc.

Listen — Michael Berkeley: Snake
(NV6500 track 13, 2:47-3:34) ℗ 2023 Navona Records :

A Quiet Prayer by Michael Isaacson is a lovely piece of rather intense nature, beautifully performed here. I feel that it is a real entreaty.

Parable for Solo English Horn (Parable XV), Op 128, is one of the parables that Vincent Persichetti (1915-1987) wrote over a period of the last twenty-two years of his life. Like much of the music on this disc, it is somewhat reflective and melancholy as this mood suits the instrument, which it is often called to express.

The last work on the disc, Evening Song, is by a contemporary of Perischetti, Clare Grundman (1913-1996). This reflective slow work is a fitting way to end this collection.

The playing in this collection of small pieces is exemplary and inspiring, and it is great to hear an album for the English horn as it is often sadly neglected, however, for my taste, I feel that perhaps it is miked a bit close or the level too high. There was no key noises or distortion, but at times I felt it was a bit 'in your face'. The cor anglais is probably my favourite instrument, but there were times when I would have liked to hear an accompanying instrument or partnership to give a little variety. I feel therefore that this disc is most likely to appeal best to an oboist or English horn player, but I would not put anyone else off from having a listen to this great selection of pieces, performed by a true master of the instrument.

Copyright © 10 February 2023 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia




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