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Lincolnshire, England

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Saturday 6 March 2010

Alec Frank-Gemmill (French Horn)

and Daniel Tong (Piano)


Born in 1985, Alec Frank-Gemmill began playing the tenor horn at the age of six, and the French horn four years later. Following initial musical study in Cambridge, he completed a Master’s degree at the Guildhall School of Music in London. He has performed with various orchestras including the Royal Philharmonic and English Chamber orchestras.

Having completed an apprenticeship in the horn section of Zurich opera, Alec is now principal horn of the Tyrolean Symphony Orchestra in Innsbruck, Austria. He has given performances of the concertos of Mozart, Strauss, and Rossetti, Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings, and a highly successful première of a new horn concerto by the composer Tom Kane. As a keen chamber musician, Alec performs regularly with a number of ensembles and has worked with the Fitzwilliam String Quartet.

Daniel Tong  performs regularly in major concert halls, at festivals and on Radio 3 both as soloist and chamber musician. He studied with Irina Zaritskaya at the Royal College of Music and with Paul Roberts at theGuildhall in London. His engagements have taken him to Portugal, France and Sweden. He founded the London Bridge Ensemble in 2003 which is firmly established as one of Britain’s foremost chamber ensembles. The second part of their recorded survey of Bridge’s early music is to be released on the Dutton label in 2010.

Together with recitals of the piano sonatas of Beethoven, he has given performances of the complete violin sonatas with violinist Fiona McNaught and the cello sonatas with Pierre Doumenge. He appears regularly with baritone Ivan Ludlow and the young award-winning violinist Jennifer Pike. Daniel founded the Wye Valley Chamber Music Festival, and is Co-Artistic Director of the Winchester Chamber Music Festival.


Camille Saint-Saëns – Romance op. 36

Charles Koechlin – Horn Sonata op. 70

Claude Debussy – “Danses de Delphes” & “Les Collines d’Anacapri” from Préludes Book I

Olivier Messiaen – “Appel interstellaire” from Des Canyons aux Étoiles

Jean Françaix – Divertimento

- - - interval - - -

Richard Strauss – Andante op. posth.

Ricahrd Strauss – Introduction, Theme and Variations

Ludwig van Beethoven – Piano Sonata in F sharp op. 78

Robert Schumann – Adagio and Allegro op. 70

Jean Françaix – Canon à l’octave

Romance op.36                                                          Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921)
This work, often heard also with orchestral accompaniment, is dedicated to the famous horn player Henri Garigue - whose fame today rests largely on a comprehensive horn tutor which he published in 1888. The Romance, written in 1874, is typical of the composer’s compact approach to composition with beautifully clean, elegant lines and it transcribes well for piano accompaniment.

In common with other Romances by Saint-Saëns (for the flute and for harp), the music is built in two clearly contrasting sections – a beautiful lyrical opening, and a more animated dramatic section with a much wider dynamic range.

 Horn Sonata op.70                                                           Charles Koechlin (1867-1950)

Moderato, très simplement et avec souplesse
Andante, très tranquille, presque adagio
Allegro moderato, assez animé

Although it was published posthumously in 1970, Koechlin wrote this three-movement Sonata between 1918 and 1925 when the composer was in his fifties. The work received its first performance in Paris 1925 at the Société Moderne d’Instruments à Vent – an organisation founded by the famous woodwind player Georges Barrère to promote the composition and performance of new music for wind instruments.

Born in Paris, Koechlin composed prolifically and could parody many different styles in his music - from the early baroque to romantic movie scores. Fascinated with the works of avant-garde composer Arnold Schoenberg, Koechlin emulated a number of modern styles (including Schoenberg’s adventurous twelve-tone technique) in his own symphonic poem Les Bandar-Log – probably Koechlin’s most popular work today.

In 1927, two years after its first performance, the composer orchestrated his Horn Sonata and published it as the Poème for Horn and Orchestra and arguably one the composer’s most spontaneously attractive works. Lasting approximately twelve minutes, this Sonata is built on a lovely pastoral opening and in a style that is always engagingly fresh and imaginative - typical of Koechlin’s uniquely original language.


from Préludes (Book 1)                                                    Claude Debussy (1862-1918)

1) Danseusesde Delphes (The Dancers of Delphi)                       
2) Les Collines d’Anacapri  (The Hills of Anacapri)  
The pieces contained in Debussy’s first and second books of Préludes for piano, dating from 1910 and 1913 respectively, are inspired both by nature and by legend. Tonight we hear examples of both these kinds. The two books constitute the last collection of descriptive piano pieces which Debussy composed.

Danseuses de Delphes is marked Lent et Grave (slow and solemn) and, within the atmosphere created by the soft chords, the music conjures up magical images of ancient Greece while also evoking the sensuous movement of the dancers. Here, Debussy combines his fascination with the culture of the ancient world and the hedonistic elements of early twentieth century Parisian life.

In the playful music of Les Collines d’Anacapri, the composer uses an Italian folksong theme to create the radiant, sunny and, at times, exotic atmosphere which we enjoy here.

Appel Interstellaire                                                        Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992)
from Des Canyons aux Étoiles                                        

Messiaen’s Des Canyons aux Étoiles (From the Canyons to the Stars) was composed to celebrate the bicentenary of the United States Declaration of Independence and first performed in 1974.
Des Canyons is a long work in twelve separate movements, and it is scored for a mixed ensemble of orchestral instruments, piano and percussion. Inspiration for the work may have come from a visit the composer made to Utah in 1972 where he was deeply moved by the birdsong and the rich colours of the landscape with its dramatic night skies.

Appel Interstellaire (Interstellar Call) is the sixth movement in the Des Canyons and is composed for horn alone. This difficult piece requires the performer to use a variety of modern techniques including glissandos and flutter-tonguing. From the opening horn call, Messiaen takes us on a wonderfully atmospheric journey of the imagination and reaching into the vastness of outer space. The composer, a lifetime lover of birdsong, cannot resist a delightful reference to the call of two exotic birds towards the end of the piece - the Chinese thrush and the Canyon wren.    

 Divertimento                                                                       Jean Françaix (1912-1997)

Aria di cantabile

This is example of Jean Françaix’s typically entertaining instrumental work. Always superbly crafted and brilliantly written for both instruments, this Divertimento opens with a buoyant and lively first movement which leads to a beautifully reflective and lyrical Aria. The final Canzonetta  is a foot-tapping fun-piece throughout, full of sparkle and rhythmic drive.


Andante (op.posth)                                                            Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Introduction, Theme and Variations (op.17)                             

These two highly distinctive pieces are well known in the horn-playing community, and show many elements of Strauss’s individual romantic style. The beautiful Andante written in 1888 was probably intended as a slow movement for a Horn Sonata that was never actually completed.

The earlier Introduction, Theme and Variations, composed in 1878, is a quite remarkable feat for a boy of fourteen! This is a confident work in which the young composer writes some very fine music - some elements of which he used seventy years later in the Finale of his Second Horn Concerto.

 Piano Sonata in F# major op.78                           Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Adagio Cantabile- Allegro non troppo
Allegro assai

Written for Countness Theresa Brunszvik (one of Beethoven’s pupils and a member of the Hungarian nobility), this piano sonata was composed in 1809. Though some musicians feel it may not have quite the distinction of many of his piano sonatas, it is nevertheless thought to have been one of Beethoven’s favourite works.

The two movements are in the same key and use something of the same rhythmic structures.
After the sonata’s opening bars, the composer presents us with an appealing subject which provides the basic material for the whole first movement. The second movement is a loosely-constructed Rondo. 

 Adagio and Allegro in Ab major op.70               Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

A newly developed valve horn had started to become popular in the 1830’s, and Schumann made use of this instrument in his compositions. The Adagio and Allegro, written in 1849, ably demonstrated the valve horn’s ability to play passages with accurate semitones and to allow the player to sustain long lyrical phases. We hear this in the Adagio. The Allegro main theme is, in contrast, a bright and energetic Rondo.

This work became so immediately popular that Schumann eventually published versions of it employing the violin or cello in the solo part. Today, further transcriptions are often heard for viola, oboe or clarinet. However, the mellow sonority of the French horn suits the romantic lyricism of Schumann’s music admirably. 

Canon à l’octave (Canon at the Octave)                  Jean Françaix  (1912-1997)

Lasting little over one minute, this delightful miniature shows us more of the wit and imagination which are Françaix’s unmistakable trademarks. Rhythmic drive abounds, and the playful musical exchanges between both instruments leave us wanting more!

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