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Alec Frank-Gemmill, Robin Ticciati & SCO - Strauss: Horn Concerto No. 1 - BBC Music Magazine

Performance 5*
Recording 5*

This is a perfect Strauss sequence, highlighting soloists in that true army of generals, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Can we get the elephant in the room out first, though? It's one concerto short. I'd be equally happy with Strauss's second one for horn, or the best oboe concerto in the repertoire. And what's for certain is that Alec Frank-Gemmill would do the former supreme justice. It's hard to praise too highly his partnership with colleagues in the much more straightforward early work, where the opening flourish finds tone and engineering in vivid harmony. Normally in the young Strauss's rather simple orchestration, you don't notice the discreet woodwind frills, but they all register here, especially the most delicate ones from the two flutes in the finale. Ticciati's elegant touch stops the ensembles from ever sounding too square. Subtle beauties abound in the Duett-Concertino — once a hearthside Cinderella, now admitted to the ball in an abundance of fine recordings. None is better than this one; clarinettist Maximiliano Martin plays the fairy-tale princess with due limpidity and spirit, but it's Peter Whelan's bassoon beast/bear who steals the show in his charismatic cantilenas without unbalancing the ethereal whole, reminding us that so many of Strauss's non-vocal works are operas for orchestra. The rest of the wind get their characterful chance, too, in the sweet and simple Serenade. Only quibble would be over the portrait of Strauss, not at the age that could be applied to any of these works at either end of a distinguished lifetime.

BBC Music Magazine
01 November 2019