If your perception of the musicians of the venerable Berlin Philharmonic is of a bunch of staid, conservative individuals who just happen to play classical music in an exceptional way, you're only partly right. Granted, not everyone in the orchestra would be willing to sit in the back seat of Sarah Willis' Mini Cooper and goof around making a YouTube video, but for the most part there is a youthfulness and joy to be observed in the personnel of the Berlin Phil. And, of course, it's arguably the greatest orchestra in the world.
I drop the name Sarah Willis as though everyone will know who she is. For those who don't know Ms. Willis, she made history in September 2001 by becoming the first female brass player ever to win a position in the Berlin Philharmonic. Since then, she has become heavily involved in Zukunft@BerlinPhil, the Berlin Phil's Education Project. Sarah also does some of the intermission interviews for the Orchestra's Digital Concert Hall, while still finding time to play horn quartets with her colleagues in the orchestra.
The latest recorded venture of the Berlin Philharmonic Horn Quartet is called Four Corners! This could well be the Berlin Phil's heavy touring schedule in microcosm. Following Sarah's activities through her highly engaging internet photo albums makes my head spin. It seems the orchestra is ever with bags packed, going somewhere within the bounds of the mythical "four corners of the world". In fact, the album Four Corners! is a musical travelogue.
I was surprised, and delighted, to hear music of America in tracks one and two. With a bang, we find ourselves in the midst of a Western movie with the song Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling, from High Noon. The playing and the arrangements are outstanding throughout. By the way, that's Sarah Willis on the low 4th horn part, every bit as virtuosic as the high playing of Stefan Dohr and her other two collaborators, Fergus McWilliam and Klaus Wallendorf. The bottom line throughout Four Corners! is fun, complete with various vocalizations and sound effects. I won't give them away, but will only say that they made me smile, groan at the occasional musical joke, and almost jump out of my seat with a musical surprise more vivid than Papa Haydn's "surprise" could ever be.
Four Corners! is published by the horn maker Gebr. Alexander, Mainz. The horn section of the Berlin Philharmonic has traditionally played instruments made by Alexander, and such is the case with this recording. Four Corners! is available as an MP3 download from iTunes or Amazon.com. If you can track down the CD, perhaps from Pope Instrument Repair or Amazon in Germany, the liner notes provide numerous photos and more of the tongue-in-cheek cheer of the disc. Highly recommended!
James Baker, KPAC