Trio Ulmian

Christian Dickhut: 3 Serenades and Trio

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Virtually nothing is known of early 19th century composer, horn player, and guitarist Christian Dickhut, except that he played in the Mannheim orchestra, developed a slide that improved the flexibility of the natural horn, and he died in 1829. The four works recorded on this two-CD set by Trio Ulmian, probably representing more than half of Dickhut's output, are scored for the really exceptional ensemble of transverse flute, horn, and guitar. Although one should never say never, given the current state of musicological knowledge, the odds that these are the only works for this particular instrumentation remain extremely high. It's such a surprisingly euphonious combination, and the music itself is so artlessly charming that it would be a pleasure to report that this release is a pleasure, but it is not. The problem is horn player Ulrich Hübner, who uses a natural horn, rather than a modern valve horn, which was invented a decade and a half before Dickhut's death, so the composer may or may not have played and written for one. Dickhut was certainly amenable to new technology; before the introduction of the valve horn, he had developed a slide that would have allowed the natural horn to play chromatic tones not part of the natural harmonic series without having to rely on stopping the bell with the right hand to alter the pitch. The use of hand stopping alters the tone quality from warm and round to bright and brassy, so that natural horn players had to work hard on developing the technique to minimize the discrepancy, to keep the music from sounding like it was being played by two entirely different instruments. It is possible to do, as many modern players devoted to period performance practice have ably demonstrated, so it's hard to understand why Hübner's tone alternates between lovely mellow open sounds and nasty blatting barks for stopped notes. The performances by flutist Michael Schmidt-Casdorff and guitarist Ansgar Krause are graceful and elegant. The sound of NCA's SACD is clean and present.

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