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BBC Legends: Dennis Brain (horn)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Horn Concerto No. 3 in E flat major, K447 (c.1786) [15.04] (a)
Divertimento No. 14 in B flat major, K270 (1777) I, IV (arr. Anthony Baines) [4.21] (d)
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

Serenade for tenor, horn and strings (1944) [24.02] [b]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Adagio and Allegro in A flat major Op.70 (1848) [8.41] (c)
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
La Cheminé du Roi René (1939): VI Chasse à Valabre [1.59] (d)
Peter Racine FRICKER (1920-1990)

Quintet for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon Op. 5 (1947) [16.24] (e)
Dennis Brain (horn)
(a) BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent, (b) Peter Pears BBC Symphony Orchestra/John Hollingsworth; (c) Benjamin Britten (piano); Dennis Brain Wind Quintet: Gareth Morris (flute), Leonard Brain (oboe), Stephen Waters (clarinet), Dennis Brain (horn), Cecil James (bassoon)
rec. (a), (b) Royal Albert Hall, London, 30 July 1953; BBC Studios (d) London, 19 June 1956, (e) Freemason's Hall, Edinburgh, 24 August 1957; (Fricker): Aldeburgh Parish Church, 21 June 1956
BBC LEGENDS MONO BBCL 4192-2 [73.36]


Selected comparisons:

Mozart Horn concerto: Dennis Brain, Karajan/Philharmonia. EMI Classics CDM 5 66898 2 Review
Britten Serenade: Dennis Brain (horn), Benjamin Britten (piano), Boyd Neel String Orchestra/Benjamin Britten. Decca 468 801-2 Review

Dennis Brain was a real hero when I was a child. His recordings of the Mozart horn concertos were among the first things I ever heard and my Grandpaís old LP became a favoured treasure. We also used to go past where his fatal accident was to visit my other grandparents; as my late sister used to say: Dennis Brain was an icon. When his EMI recording came out first on CD in 1988 it was the most played ever, well over 100 times, and kept our young son quiet! Iíve enjoyed the previous three BBC Legends discs - all reviewed by MusicWeb - and this is a real treat.

The Mozart is from a Prom in 1953 and is in pretty good mono radio sound. Itís interesting to hear Brain under Sargent as Sir Thomas Beecham famously described Karajan, who would conduct Brain in the studio a few months later as "a kind of musical version of Sir Malcolm Sargent!" It is a splendid performance with just one small fluffed note. Despite the RAHís infamous acoustics the BBC engineers did a great job capturing this highly evocative rendition. Dennis knew these works backwards and Sargent shows what an underrated conductor he was. As a 12 year old I was taken to New Theatre Oxford to hear him conduct DvořŠkís New World. The slow movement is intensely moving and as in the EMI version the rondo is unique. Sargent provides impeccable accompaniment and the BBCSO play like a dream. There have been horn players since who have played these works splendidly but there was only one Dennis Brain. This is an invaluable addition to the sadly small number of recordings he made.

Britten wrote the Serenade for Brain and Pears and here they are at the same Prom nine years after the Decca recording which as the review points out is in very poor sound for 1944. This was conducted by John Hollingsworth who was assistant to Flash Harry (Sargent) and like Brain in the RAF in WW2. Tragically he died very young, like Dennis, in 1963, of pneumonia. From the research Iíve carried out his recordings are mainly of British Film music; here he conducts with great skill and tenderness. The horn sound is captured well and Pears is in sublime form. Some reviewers found his sound recessed but itís certainly OK for me. Tully Potterís notes are up to his usual very high standard and as he points out this live recording does have an edge. Just one example "Blow bugles blow" (track 6) shows the special empathy these artists had with Britten, and what a talent he was! Ö Memories of Owen Wingrave his first opera for TV in the late 1960s. It was news to me that Brain and Pears made two studio recordings but Stephen Pettittís Dennis Brain discography shows a recording under Goossens which has only recently come out on an Eloquence CD. I found this whole performance very moving and exhilarating and am delighted to be able to tell others about its joys!

Schumannís Adagio is sometimes played on a cello but it sounds great here. There is a studio recording with the late great Gerald Moore (Testament SBT1022) with exemplorary accompaniment but Brittenís contribution is very spirited and lively.

The Mozart Divertimento is tremendous fun as is the piece by Milhaud. The final work by Brainís friend Fricker is worth hearing. Apparently he was in vogue about the time of the broadcast but is virtually unknown now. Itís not bad but lacks really memorable Ďhooksí. The ensemble with Morrisís wooden flute is in fine form; all a week before Dennisís last trip.

All in all this is another "must have" from BBC Legends. Itís been really interesting learning more of the musical scene at the time and being reminded of a genius sadly taken away at about the same age as Mozart


David R Dunsmore

 



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