sound festival 2020 review: Guild of Hornplayers


PIP EASTOP (Replacing Ben Goldscheider in the Tippett Sonata)

Saturday 24th October 4pm

Celebrating the French Horn as the highlighted instrument at this year’s soundfestival, this was a virtuoso performance from a Horn Quartet filmed in London.

There were three works in the programme, ending with the fantastically challenging four movement Sonata for Four Horns by Sir Michael Tippett.

The concert opened with a short very lively piece by Timothy Jackson (b.1972) entitled Child’s Play. This was a rhythmic jumpy piece, jolly and showy, with a strong sense of celebration in the music, a fine piece with which to launch the concert.

Thomas Hewitt-Jones gave a short introduction to his new piece composed during lockdown and entitled Pandemic, right up to date then.

This work was in three movements, the first entitled Normal Life. It was jaunty and lively following on from the previous work in its busy textures. The second movement was very different. Entitled Lockdown it used a rather bleak sounding twelve tone melody which, to begin with, was passed round the players. I suspect I know what that represented. That idea was taken further as each of the players dropped out in turn leaving only one with darker and darker sound before fading out. Part way through, the players exchanged their horns for Wagner tubas (usually played in orchestras by horn players). These gave the music much darker hues as well.

The final movement entitled New Normal had pointed rhythmic entries building in the quartet as the mood lightened and speeded up almost skipping along as the harmonies also softened and the music resolved gently and more happily at the end.

Ben Goldscheider left the quartet and was replaced by Pip Easthop who gave a long very detailed and involved introduction to Tippett’s Sonata with many demonstrations from members of the quartet. I did not time it but the introduction could have been longer than the piece. At the side of the screen were notes from audience members and one of them using the name Marvin the Exile wrote ‘Probably be easier to explain Quantum Electro Dynamics’. That was funny but probably not fair because as the work was being played everything that Easthop had said fell into place and turned out to be quite helpful in responding to Tippett’s music.

In the absence of a conductor, the players used a click track to keep together because the Sonata is rhythmically a terrifyingly difficult piece.
In the first movement the horns called to one another with busy fanfare like music. There was occasional muting to change timbre and the music got busier suggesting the horns now together and chattering happily to one another.

The second movement was very much a helter-skelter affair racing along like a crazy horse ride or perhaps like a tarantella. Well, this was horn playing at its most startlingly virtuosic.

The third movement, slow and thoughtful suggested the players calmly discoursing together in a friendly manner.

The fourth movement finale, as Pip Easthop promised was a rondo-like movement (he harked back to Mozart) and that was right. Here were the horns in woodland hunting mood.

All too soon the piece was over but what an amazing performance. French horns at their most colourful and exciting. Thank-you Guild of Hornplayers and thank-you sound.   

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