Fionnuala McCarthy sopran
Teresa Kammerer violine
Jana Krämer violine
Matthias Benker viola
Andreas Timm cello
Silvia Careddu flöte
Ronith Mues harfe
Ralf Forster klarinette
Recording producer, recording engineer: Ralf Koschnicke / Ralf Kolbinger
Recorded at Konzerthaus Berlin, Werner-Otto-Saal, 16-18th October 2010
Artwork by Harald Priem
Photography by Martin U. K. Lengemann
England and France are not only connected by the tunnel under the English Channel or through old military alliances, but also through numerous artistic relationships. The Horenstein Ensemble brings to its debut album an interesting search for clues, where connoisseurs and music lovers alike will sit up and take notice! The listener is presented with works of great variety, yet the proximity of the works is also apparent. The four works were all composed within 25 years of each other, and the musical language, character (one can almost hear the unity of sound) and chamber music gesture are all closely related.
Having said that, each one of these pieces has its own special tone, each one achieving a new balance between the archaic and the modern. Also, each of the four pieces has its own specific instrumentation which lends it its own individual taste. The harp alone conjures up associations with the sounds of legendary bards, making its mark on the listener.
At the end of the 19th century, the music nations of France and England could hardly have been more different. France was still under the shadow of the war it lost to Germany. This led French composers to a productive period of new orientation to create musical traditions worthy of the "Grand Nation" and away from the overwhelming role models of Wagner and Beethoven. On the other hand, England had produced no composers of European stature for decades. The hopes of English music at the turn of the 20th century initially bogged down in traditional classicism, and the enthusiasm which Charles Villiers Stanford, Edward Elgar and Gustav Holst unleashed in English concert halls was not shared on the continent at the time.
Concertpiece for Harp: Maurice Ravel
When the Horenstein Ensemble formed in 2008, it was clear to the seven musicians that there was only one work for their complete instrumentation - flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet - in the standard repertoire: Maurice Ravel's Introduction and Allegro of 1905. The Érard company commissioned the work. Érard was initially a famous piano manufacturer in the 19th century (Chopin appreciated Érard pianos for their noble sound and for their ease of playing), who also rose to become one of the leading harp manufacturers with Sebastian Érard's construction of a double pedal harp in 1810. This 10 minute work is thus a concert piece for harp and chamber ensemble - without allowing the harp to unpleasantly dominate. It is chamber music of the noblest kind which allows each instrument to contribute to the musical setting and to the magical sound world created.
Work of a "Rhapsodist": Herbert Howells
Herbert Howells was born in 1892 in Gloucestershire County and studied at the Royal College of Music in London (with Charles Villiers Stanford, Charles Wood and Hubert Parry among others). Starting in 1920, he himself taught composition at this same institution. He composed sacred music for the most part and his preoccupation with sacred English works from the House of Tudor influenced his compositions. The most important English cathedral choirs commissioned works such as masses, vesper psalms and canticles. Also, he was Music Director at St. Paul's Girls‘ School from 1936-62. In 1952, he was appointed Professor of Music of the University of London by King George VI.
His initial fame as a composer, which soon manifested itself in the form of prestigious performances, was based on his songs, chamber music and orchestral music. The Rhapsodic Quintet - which is, as implied in the title, composed as a one-movement, multi-part "narrative" form - was completed in 1919 and is among his most often performed works today. Howells apparently knew Brahms's famous Clarinet Quintet, composed 25 years earlier, and especially loved its slow movement.
Admiral of "La Grande Nation": Jean Émile Paul Cras
In contrast to the other composers on this recording, Jean Émile Paul Cras never studied at conservatory (a couple of months of private studies with his friend Henri Duparc had to suffice for his musical insatiability...) and his occupation was far beyond what could include professional musicmaking. Born in 1879 in the Brittany's port city of Brest, he rose from being an officer of the French Navy all the way up to rear admiral. But composition was not a hobby for him like a handyman doing projects in the cellar, it was a calling which destiny imposed on him, according to his memoirs, and from which he could not escape.
After decades in isolation, Cras was thrust into the spotlight in 1921 with his prizewinning opera "Polyphème" and was suddenly seen as a versatile composer. Today, his chamber music is appreciated even more. Because of its unusual instrumentation, the four-movement Quintet of 1928 for flute, harp and string trio is sure to arouse the interest of curious chamber music ensembles, as it must have with the Horenstein Ensemble.
"Very British": Ralph Vaughan Williams
The biography of Vaughan Williams shows certain parallels to his colleague Howells, whom he even accompanied for a time as fatherly friend and mentor. He was also born in Gloucestershire County and received his training at the Royal College of Music (also with Stanford and Parry). Additionally, he studied with Max Bruch in Berlin and Maurice Ravel in Paris. (Ravel called him "the only student who doesn't compose my music"...) He was a composer, musicologist and publisher of old English masters and folk music - which like Howells influenced his compositions. His output can be described as "very British": the embodiment of English music in the first half of the 20th century.
The short cycle "Merciless Beauty" of 1921 is a setting three poems originally attributed to Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400), the "father of English literature" and author of the famed "Canterbury Tales". Modal modulations lend a special aura of natural antiquity to the setting of these Middle English verses.
Dr. Dietmar Hiller / Translation: Daniel Costello