There have been plenty of recordings of Mozart's four horn concertos, but this is the first to present the last of them in something close to its originally intended form. Mozart left the concerto incomplete: he wrote the first movement and sketched the finale (writing out, in his usual way, a 'continuity line', but leaving much detail, including the scoring, until he had time to fill it in—a time that never came); probably, but not necessarily, he would also have composed a slow movement. The long accepted completion of the finale has now been shown, by Alan Tyson, to be Süssmayr's work, and in conflict with Mozart's own sketch, which has only lately become available for study. Now, for this record, John Humphries has prepared a completion, based on the sketch; one might cavil at details here and there, but the result is sensible and stylish.
Exactly the same adjectives may be applied to Anthony Halstead's playing, not only of the D major Concerto but of all the music on this disc. He is a finely secure player, cool and understated in the best traditions of British horn playing. His smooth line is a delight in the graceful music of the Romance of K447 (the last complete concerto: it can fairly securely be dated to 1787 or a little later, not 1783 as long supposed), while the slow movement of K495, not itself an outstanding piece, comes out with considerable eloquence. There is graceful playing, with some gentle hints of wit, in the finale of K447—one can imagine performances with more of high spirits in these 6/8 hunting-style finales, but these are shapely and pleasing in their slightly low-key way. Using a natural horn, Halstead has to 'manufacture' all the chromatic notes, and one or two others, with his lips and his hand in the instrument's bell; this usually produces a soft, slightly muffled sound, which he uses to give shape to a phrase where that is appropriate and cleverly disguises when it is not. Altogether, then, a very accomplished piece of horn playing, whose sheer virtuosity ought not be underrated because the result is not overtly spectacular.
It was a happy idea to include on this disc the three-minute Fragment, K494a, the beginning of what was to have been a horn concerto in E major, probably written in the mid 1780s but never completed, for reasons that are unclear: it is a beautiful piece, of a spaciousness that the other concertos lack.