"I PREDICT that the many lovers of Brahms’s Horn Trio hearing this recording will experience widely differentiated reactions, ranging all the way from dismay to pleasurable amazement. Some will love it; others will dislike it or will at least be mightily surprised how different it sounds compared to the seventy or so prior recordings of the work. As someone who played the work many times in the earlier years of my life, as well as hearing it in dozens of performances and recordings over the many years, and now as producer and incentivizer of this recording, I am not surprised at such a range of reactions.
Unbeknownst to most musicians and music lovers—including Brahms admirers—the Horn Trio’s history is a checkered and complicated one. It begins with the surprising almost unbelievable fact that the Trio’s first publication as well as all later publications/editions must be counted as among the worst in the entire history of classical music ... when I acquired my first score and parts (the Breitkopf and Härtel publication1), I was startled to discover that a great amount of notational markings, such as crescendo and diminuendo wedges, were misplaced or lined up wrong, tempo changes were misplaced, and often “sempre” markings that didn’t say sempre to what. I was much puzzled by all of this."
Thus begins the liner notes to Gunther Schuller's multi-page musical manifesto on "The Fascinating Problem of Performing and Interpreting Brahms's Horn Trio in Eb Major." The task at hand was to gather three of his closest associates, msgrs. Todd, Smirnoff and O'Riley, to capture as close a definitive version of the Horn Trio as possible from the viewpoint of the composer based on long-standing Brahmsian traditions and performance practises. All three have worked with Schuller separately in many different musical capacities over the years, but this time they were brought together to take up the challenge of this singular mission: to rise above previous notions of this seminal work and to re-discover its soul.
As carefully examined in the essay, Schuller points out the many inconsistencies and century-long presumptions previous published editions of the score and parts have caused, details so many other recordings and performances of the Brahms Horn Trio had avoided to address. With this version of the Trio, thoughtfully executed by Todd, Smirnoff, and O'Riley, Schuller hoped to address those long held "discrepancies and ambiguities."
Also included on the CD are individual performances from each member of the trio: Sarabande from Bach's Partita in D minor as played by violinist Joel Smirnoff, pianist Christopher O'Riley offers another Brahms work Three Intermezzi, op 117, and French hornist Richard Todd singles out Messiaen's Appel Interstellaire, the sixth movement from Des canyons aux étoiles...
"I hope that the listener to this recording will agree, and see how extraordinarily beautiful—at times magical—the Brahms’s Horn Trio can be." — Gunther Schuller