Kerry Turner: Horn Works

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The sleeve notes say that Turner developed his reputation as a composer with the American Horn Quartet, but has written horn and piano at the same time as his horn quartets. He performed these works for horn and piano along with Kristina Mascher-Turner, appearing as the Virtuoso Horn Duo.

Since the majority of these pieces had not been recorded, his music for horn and piano has not enjoyed as much recognition as that of his horn quartets. This is also the case with his pieces for solo horn as well as the work for three horns (the Suite for

Unaccompanied Horn and Chaconne respectively.) So this is him laying them down; the composer, playing his own music. There can be no arguments about this work not being played as he intended, or indeed about the quality of the playing.

Even for those of you who are not massive fans of the French horn, this is an enjoyable album. The sleeve notes say that his compositional goal is to “paint a picture, as clearly as possible through highly melodic musical language and then to communicate it to the listener and the performer, so that it might appear in their minds as vividly as if it were on a large movie screen”. As far as accessible music goes, you can’t really want more, a composer writing music for his listeners to comprehend as easily as possible.

There is nothing inaccessible about this: opener Candles in the Darkness is about candles, one candle chasing away the darkness, then more candles until the darkness is extinguished. It’s very American, so the movie for this would be a cowboy, the rider initially traversing an empty plain; there’s a touch of Copland about it.

Couperin Variations is based on a theme and variations of La Bandoline by François Couperin, gentler and more romantic than the opening piece. Abide With Me is based on the hymn of the same name; we’d not have guessed it until we read the notes but it’s got more solemnity about it at first, before more lively horn and piano; this film would be smugglers in Wales, opening with a lonely Welsh village before people suddenly run all over the place frantically and comically trying to hide contraband. You might see a different film but it will create imagery in your head.

Only with the closing Suite for Unaccompanied Horn does it get “serious” and even then it’s not difficult; Turner set out for it to be the horn player’s version of the Bach Cello Suites.

It’s an entertaining and likeable album, out now on Naxos 8.579050.

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