Jacek Muzyk

Bach: Muzyk for French Horn

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This CD claims that Jacek Muzyk "makes the French horn sound as sweet, colorful, and beautiful as a cello." Muzyk is an astoundingly proficient hornist, and his playing is indeed sweet, colorful, and beautiful, but he does not sound like a cello. The listener's appreciation of this album will depend on his or her tolerance for hearing music written very idiomatically for one instrument being played on another. The willing listener has to make some adjustments to fully enjoy this album. The horn and cello are both expressive melodic instruments capable of warmth, incisiveness, and a variety of tonal colors. The biggest technical difference between them is that a cellist's playing is not circumscribed by the need to interrupt the musical line to take breaths. Bach's suites include passages of page after page of unbroken lines, and any wind player is going to have to break the lines at points to breathe. By using circular breathing, Muzyk is able to go for an amazingly long time without a breath, but he does take one occasionally, and it does introduce an element of discontinuity that listeners, depending on their inclination, may or may not be able to accept. It must be said, though, that after the first few breaths, it's possible to get acclimated to them, so that they become less noticeable. Muzyk is an extraordinarily fine hornist; his tone is warm and full, his technique is impeccable, and his playing is completely secure. He made these arrangements himself, and he even manages to make the cello's multiple stops persuasive on the horn, treating them as grace notes. The result can be jaw-droppingly virtuosic; in the first Bourée of the Third Suite, the smoothness of his legato leaps from the very depths of the horn's range to its highest sounds practically miraculous. Like the finest cellist tackling these suites, he plays with spontaneity and ease, as if he were making up the music as he goes along. Some of his interpretive choices may annoy purists, but they follow a reasonable musical logic and are never capricious. The excellence of Muzyk's performance makes a strong case for a well-played transcription and may even win over skeptics for whom the idea of a hornist playing these pieces is nothing short of blasphemous. The recorded sound is warm and spacious and has a resonance that nicely approximates the sustained ringing of a cello's strings.

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