Classical - Instrumental
Dusik: Sonata No. 1 Op. 45, Rachmaninov: Preludes Op. 23 Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5 & 6, Grieg: Lyric Pieces Op. 65, Prokofiev: Sonata No. 1 Op. 1
Steffen Horn (piano)
This recording was made during my recent Norwegian tour and represents my most personal repertoire programme to date. It has been a great pleasure, and very refreshing, to get the opportunity to put together a repertoire of music which simply means a great deal to me, and which I was extremely eager to perform on stage. The Czech Republic, Norway and Russia form a European triangle. Each country displays its own unique style, but they have one thing in common: a heavy folkloristic influence, especially during the romantic era. Besides the fact that I am half Czech, this may well be what attracts me so strongly to the music of these three countries. I find their music highly expressive and heartfelt.
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Review by John Miller - January 31, 2007
Another fine and enterprising offering from the small Norwegian label 2L. They have captured a live recital from the young Steffan Horn, who is already building an international career, joining other stellar Norwegian pianists such as Andsnes and Brattlie. Horn, however, is half Czech, and he chose the programme of this concert with regard to his love of slavic composers and of folk tunes and folk style in classical music. Thus he begins with the first sonata by Czech virtuoso pianist and composer Jan Ladislav Dusik (1760-1812), then moves on to five preludes from Rachmaninov's Op 23 set - Horn tells us that Rachmaninov visited Greig's hometown of Bergen in 1917 and included some of the preludes in a concert there. Next, he comes to Grieg himself, with a selection of six miraculous and mostly rarely-heard Lyric Pieces from Op 65 - these intimate tone-poems are the essence of Grieg and so rarely heard on the concert platform, although Gilels used to love them and played them as encores. The programme ends with another Sonata no 1, this time the Op 1 of the sixteen years old Prokofiev. Horn's own choice of encore is the lovely Andante molto from Grieg's Piano Sonata Op 7. Tired of the discipline of CDs which follow the dictat of "completeism", I was delighted to relax and listen to this concert programme, which works very well and allows many musical comparisons, references and echos to arise in one's mind and add to the experience. Full marks, then, for intelligent and original programme planning.
Never having heard any of Steffan Horn's discs before, the first impression which floated into my mind after just a few handfuls of notes, was his wonderfully clear articulation. It is always a pleasure to listen to a person who speaks with clear but natural articulation and also has a wonderfully nuanced voice. The same is true for pianists. I was able to relax and follow wherever he was taking me The Dusik sonata was played with obvious affection, despite its lack of virtuoso style and pretension. Delightful, and a lovely way for the pianist to "play himself in" to his audience.
I have been hoping for some more SACDs of the Rachmaninov Preludes and Etudes Tableaux - they turn up mostly in recitals. The group on the present disc will do very nicely for now! Horn takes us from the rustic charm of Dusik and plunges us deep into the romantic and melancholy heart of Rachmaninov. The slower, introspective Preludes have a Bachian quality of stream-of-conciousness improvisations which are very difficult to bring off, but with Horn's unfailingly clear control of the complex weaving of melodic fragments from voice to voice, Horn had me enthralled and deeply moved. There are also two of the more grandiose Preludes, which often encourage lesser pianists to show off with vulgar banging, but this is not Horn's way, and he releases their almost symphonic sonorities with magisterial effect. The popular march prelude in G minor was, I thought, inspiringly done, with crisp, snapping staccato rhythms full of "attitude", and I was reminded that Russians are very ironic as well as melancholic; the miltaristic, pompous march gives way to a trio of melting melody, before resuming its self-important way. Next, to the Grieg Lyric pieces, and thus to the real heart of this concert and its performance. Horn makes every possible case for these pieces being mini-masterpieces, with such a range of deeply felt emotions, from joy to black sorrow. I found his selection to be really illuminating, reaching its climax with the Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, written by Grieg to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary. And celebrate we do! Many amateur pianists have worked their way through the Lyric Pieces, which look deceptively easy on technical demand, only to crash and burn when it comes to the fiendishly difficult Wedding Day. Horn almost put out of my mind the phenomenal energy of the legendary Percy Grainger performance on ancient vinyl, nut he made me smile with his portrayal of the guests hurrying towards the wedding hall, clad in their best national costumes and bearing gifts from the fields. In the quiet middle section, he gives us the voices of bride and groom murmuring sweet nothings canonically to one another in some quiet corner, oblivious of the festivities, before they are dragged back into the dancing. Finally, to the Prokofiev - despite being rejected by his teachers as outlandish nonsense, this one-movement work by the teenager is fascinating in its echoes of Rachmaninov's Russian melodic style and the harmonic adventurism of the Grieg Lyric pieces, which Horn clearly realises. Excellent programming!
You will notice that I have not mentioned the recording quality so far. That is because it is simply excellent. We are sitting in a smallish hall, which gives a lovely bloom to the Steinway, and are perhaps half-a dozen rows back from the front (if you are listening in MC). The stereo SACD layer carries the same bloom, and makes the most of Steffan Horn's crystal clear articulation. One pleasure you will miss if not in MC mode, is that after each group, there is applause, as this is a live recording. The previously absolutely silent Norwegians suddenly start clapping, and you realise you are amongst an audience in the Gamle Logen, Oslo's oldest venue for recitals. You may also think, particularly after the final notes of the Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, that they really ought to be clapping a great deal more enthusiastically! I have been to many concerts in Norway, and also taught Norwegian students. Audiences are generally very reserved (and this comes from a supposedly reserved Brit!). When teaching a grpup of Norwegian students, I simplycould not establish a connection with the students: one is always looking for tiny clues of body language so you can judge how your information is going over, and if need be, modify your approach. Of feedback, there was none! My collegues laughed and said that all foreign teachers said they found Norwegian audiences impassive, but that they really do listen with great respect and concentration. I'm therefore in the odd position of saying that the only significant fault I can find with this release is with the audience!
Finally, I wish to complement all the background folk at 2L on their work in presenting their CDs. The gatefold thin card disc wallets are excellently laid out in both Norwegian and English, and the artwork is also very imaginative and appropriate. I particularly like the cover of "Konsert", with its closeup of the ivories, one of which carries a fingerprint - signifying Steffen Horn's intent to make the music his own. Well done all round to this enterprising company, and can we please have more of Steffen Horn in SACD - he already has several RB cds listed, including one of Prokofiev sonatas. Buying from their website is painless and the discs arrive quickly by airmail and are at very reasonable prices.
Copyright © 2007 John Miller and HRAudio.net
Review by Mark Novak - March 20, 2007
Some of my favorite recordings in my collection are from live performances. I actually prefer live recordings IF: the artist(s) is/are top echelon, the audience is very quiet and the recording is done properly (i.e. not overly-mic'd and with a proper balance of direct and hall sound). There are many live recording where one or more of these criteria aren't met and they suffer for it. Not so the case with this concert recital by Steffen Horn. It was recorded on Dec 5, 2005 in Oslo in front of an unbelievably quiet audience (one criteria met!). I simply could not tell that there was an audience present until the applause at the end of the first work. Furthermore, the sound is nigh on perfect. The piano (a Steinway) is captured beautifully with just enough of the hall to transport me there in my stereo listening environment (second criteria met!). Now, what about the artist? This is my first exposure to anything from Mr. Horn. Based on the results, he is a world-class pianist (third criteria met!). I did not detect a single fudged note throughout the program over a number of listens. That's a true accomplishment in my book and makes for a very satisfying listening experience.
The program is quite varied in nature, starting with a classical sonata from Dusik (a great warm-up piece for the evening) and moving into the more substantial Rachmaninov preludes which Horn tosses off with aplomb. The most appealng work for me is the Op.65 Grieg lyrical pieces. Horn captures the Nordic essence of these pieces so well it seems second nature to him (he is Norwegian after all). The concert is capped off by Prokofiev's Op.1 first sonata. On paper that may sound like a real discontinuity but the sonata is quite similar to the Grieg pieces (even more so than his Russian compatriot Rachmaninov) and makes for a fitting conclusion. An encore, the andante molto mvmt from Grieg's sonata Op.7, brings this concert to a very satisfying close.
If you are an aficionado of solo piano and this program has appeal to you, by all means give this SACD a spin. It is a real treat!
Copyright © 2007 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net
Review by John Broggio - April 1, 2007
Yet another fine recital from another young pianist & musician.
Opening with Dusík's 1st piano sonata, Steffen Horn immediately sets out his stall of his virtuosity being in the service of the music and not the other way around. This is not music that frequently finds its way onto disc let alone the concert hall so it is nice to hear this in a sensitive performance that does not attempt to make it into what it is not; the echoes of Schubert are audible but never overriding in Horn's hands.
We are then given substantial excerpts from Rachmaninov's Op.23 Preludes; 1, 2, 4, 5 & 6 (in that order) where Horn's approach is more poet than virtuoso. Some may well find this approach in the second prelude in particular a little underwhelming, beautiful though the rendition is there is a little electricity missing that others have found. Others too have a touch too much tenderness for my ears but it is refreshing that not every young pianist feels the need to hammer out tricky music as loudly and quickly as possible.
Arguably the demonstration items on the disc (from a musical perspective) are Grieg's Op.65 Lyric Pieces (including one of the most famous piano miniatures he wrote - the Wedding Day at Troldhaugen). The simple and honest playing reaps dividends - one thinks of Gilels' superb recital and this is by no means second best.
Concluding the formal programme is Prokofiev's first sonata, neatly holding up a mirror to the opening work of the disc. Shorter and more angular than the Dusík, Horn does not hold back in this performance and, to his disservice, highlights an aspect of excitement that I found missing in some of the more extrovert moments of the Rachmaninov.
A short encore follows (the Andante Molto from Grieg's sonata) which is coaxed from the piano like the rest of the Grieg - a lovely end to what must have been a most enjoyable evening in Oslo on 5 December 2005.
The recording is very good, capturing the piano sound well with virtually no audible audience participation during the music. However, and this is even a drawback for an applause loving listener, there is not enough time for the applause to stop before Steffen Horn recommences his recital - this is acceptable on the night but can quickly become tiresome on repetition. It may have been a better decision to omit the encore in preference to the lack of repose that is granted to each piece. [For those who are not enamoured with applause on disc, one should note that the audience are also quick off the mark in welcoming each performance - some might feel inappropriately so at times.] From the photo's included, the stage looks similar to London's Wigmore Hall (and the sound is similar) - we are balanced about half-way back.
Overall recommendable but listeners should be aware of some potential drawbacks.
Copyright © 2007 John Broggio and HRAudio.net