Brief reviews: Recent CDs by Iowa horn professors

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Up today we have two great CDs from Iowa horn professors, both of them showing clearly that they are excellent models for their students.

Professors put together recordings for a variety of reasons but above all they can be viewed in an academic setting as performance products. These CDs are both the result of much effort and likely personal expense; in general please watch out for recordings of this type and support their creators!

First up is Soundings by Jeffrey Agrell, horn professor at the University of Iowa. Subtitled “Improvisations and compositions for horn and electronica” this CD takes you to another sonic world. I was particularly impressed to see that while recorded in four different venues over almost ten years, the mastering and production has resulted in a product that opens up seamlessly in the same, expansive sonic envelope. Bravo! The CD sounds wonderful on good speakers and deserves a close listen.

The performance by Agrell and his collaborators is impressive, and I love the sonic landscapes created in these compositions of Agrell, James Naigus, John Manning, Jason Palamara, and Isreal Neuman. The horn playing in particular shows great intonation and phrasing while producing a wide variety of tone colors and effects. I would very much enjoy someday the chance to experience performances of these same works live in a room, but short of that this CD really is a great way to be introduced to them.

Also heard from in a recent recording is Yu-Ting Su of the University of Northern Iowa. Her recording is titled Watercolors: Art Songs for Horn and Piano and features music of Rossini, Berg, Bizet, Orbradors, and Montsalvatge. As with Soundings, Su takes us into a sonic world, but that world being the more familiar one of art song.

This is a very enjoyable CD to listen to, with Su showing great ability to phrase and great technical control. The arrangements are all by Su and all very work well for horn. If I were to pick one work that I particularly enjoyed, the Seven Early Songs of Alban Berg would be my choice. The work displays an interesting harmonic language and is very convincingly performed.

Her collaborator is pianist Korey Barrett. The jacket notes he is also a vocal coach, and clearly he is not only familiar with the style but also you get a strong sense collaboration between the two performers, something I don’t always feel when listening to recordings. The interpretations are convincing and worthy of emulation for their nuance and style.

The Amazon listing for Soundings is here and the Amazon listing for Watercolors is here.

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