The case for performing Mozart's horn music authentically on its original natural (valveless) horn is a bit tougher than for music in other genres; it's hard to imagine that Mozart or his audiences wouldn't have preferred the smooth scale of the modern horn to the reedy, clarinet-like tone that emerges on chromatic notes even on a fine recording like this one. Yet the four concertos, two of them incomplete or incompletely transmitted, and the Horn Quintet in E flat major, K. 407, have been recorded often enough on natural horns. The orchestra on this recording, the Hanover Band, has even been heard once before in the cycle, curiously with the conductor here, Anthony Halstead, playing the horn. This version is preferable; the earlier one had an odd continuo-like realization of the bass line, with harpsichord. But the real attraction here is the limpid playing of the soloist, Pip Eastop. He makes listeners believe that Mozart took increasing note of the strengths and weakness of the natural instrument as his body of horn music grew, and his cantabile in the fine slow movements is unexcelled. The balance, and better still, the sense of dialogue with the other instruments in the Horn Quintet, underplayed probably because this is so often not true, is spot-on. In general Eastop's modest dynamic levels are in sync with the small Hanover Band, and the result is a performance that's beautifully controlled yet does not lose sight of Mozartian lyricism. A strong pick for those interested in hearing Mozart's horn music played in this way.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Horn Concerto No. 2 in E flat major, K417|
|Horn Concerto No. 4 in E flat major, K495|
|Horn Concerto No. 3 in E flat major, K447|
|Horn Concerto No. 1 in D major, K412 (K386b)|
|Horn Quintet in E flat major, K407 (386c)|