Jasper de Waal, first horn of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, has selected a mix of late 18th century solos and chamber music for horn, some familiar and some very obscure. The better known works include Joseph Haydn's two horn concertos (the second of which the program notes suggest, without offering evidence, may have been the work of his younger brother Michael.) The most familiar melody included is that of the second movement of Mozart's Horn Concerto No. 3, K. 447, but with a newly composed accompaniment for string quartet by Michael Haydn. The oddities include Joseph Haydn's Divertimento for horn, violin, and cello, and Michael Haydn's Adagio and Allegro molto for horn, trombone, and orchestra, which is recorded here for the first time. This last work is also the most intriguing piece on the album, and its performance the most striking. As eccentric as the scoring sounds, de Waal and trombonist Jörgen van Rijen match each other's tone so beautifully that it's sometimes difficult to tell which instrument is which, so that the result can sound like a horn duet. It also happens to be an unusually graceful and elegant work, one of the few from the Classical era to give the trombone such an opportunity to shine.
De Waal plays a modern valve horn and his tone is big and round, with a little more vibrato, particularly in the concertos, than is usually applied to music of the Classical period. It is not excessive enough to be distracting, but it suggests the kind of performance that was more common before the rise of interest in historically informed performance practice. His technique is very fine and even the challenging concertos sound effortless. The Concertgebouw Chamber Orchestra, led by Henk Rubingh, plays with dynamic subtlety, but comes off as somewhat stiff rhythmically. The sound of Channel Classics' SACD is clean and clear.