A Passionate Horn: Andrew McAfee, horn, & Nancy Whelan, piano. Henri Büsser: Morceau de concert, Op. 39; Reinhold Glière: Concerto for horn and Orchestra, Op. 91, II. Andante; Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5, Op. 107, III. Andante; Robert Schumann: Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70; Franz Strauss: Fantasie for horn and piano, Op. 2, & Nocturno for horn and piano, Op. 7; James Winter: Sonata for horn and piano. Self-released © 2012, TT 63:05, available on his web site $15.00 (local pickup)/$25.00 (incl. S&H), or at CDBaby.com $18.00, download $9.99.

The title of the CD is appropriate for this compilation of mostly slow Romantic works – no hunting horns here! – mostly originally written for horn and piano, but including two reductions for horn and piano of works originally for orchestra. The playing order (the above listing is alphabetical) is well planned for a coherent and logical program. Not everything is in the slow and relaxed mode – this is not all mood music, so there are some more exuberant moments and a few chances for bravado along the way. The music has an inherent variety within some of the works that makes a good balance for the whole.

There are few other recordings available of many of these works, even for those by Strauss (father of Richard, for those who are wondering about the connection), perhaps the greatest 19th century composer for the instrument and a famous and accomplished horn player: only one other exists of the Fantaisie, Op. 2, and just nine of his Nocturno, Op. 7. This is also the sole recording on the market for the Büsser and the Winter, both lovely works. The Schumann Op. 70, however, has 52 other options at ArkivMusic.com – perhaps no surprise there.

McAfee demonstrates an excellent control of dynamics and execution of the nuances. His playing is as smooth as butter. He obtains an amazing sound of distance or echo with the mute in one track. Whelan is a capable and sensitive partner without ever dominating the proceedings, prominent when soloing and discreet when she needs to be to allow McAfee to shine in the quieter moments.

The 16-(un-numbered)-page booklet has a dark background with text in white throughout except for the back cover bio of Whelan, which shares the page with a photo of her. The text is on the left and a different photo of McAfee, on the right at every page-turn (except the last, where the conclusion of the texts and the acknowledgements/credits appear on the right). The front cover features another photo of McAfee; his bio is on its inside. The interesting and informative track-by-track notes about the works are written by McAfee and are often personalized. Track listings and timings appear only on the outside of the tray card; the total time is not printed.

Although I am personally not a fan of recordings of piano reductions of concerto works, all in all, this is a fine recording that stands up well to frequent listening. It is very pleasant and enjoyable, well conceived, and superbly played. It features mostly infrequently-recorded and even rarely-performed repertoire to which you may listen attentively, appreciate, and savor – or enjoy casually as background music to another activity. This is a program that is far superior to and positively different from the run-of-the-mill wallpaper music. It doesn’t attract attention to itself by its brightness but rather shines by the brilliance of its playing and its serenity.

Editor’s Note: The horn soloist is pursuing a parallel career as a conductor in central North Carolina.