Recently, I reviewed
Briggs' generally routine take on Mozart's 'famous four'.
There is nothing of the routine whatsoever about Brain's famous
recordings. I lived with the LP of these concertos for many years:
ASD1140 was the particular incarnation, although they existed
originally on a Columbia 33CX. Malcolm Walker, who writes the
perceptive notes for the current issue, avers that this 1953 version
of the concerto, “continues to be the yardstick by which all subsequent
versions are measured”. How right he is. There is a freshness
of spirit here that makes one wonder if there are not parallels
to be made between Brain and Mozart himself – both died young,
leaving a legacy that is at once as individual as it is unassailable.
Brain's greatest achievement was that he plays as if the horn
is not a difficult instrument. It is simply the medium through
which he interprets this music; and these interpretations are
of the highest possible standard.
is made of pure gold. The Philharmonia plays like a group of descended
gods for him, and there is none of the streamlined phrasings of
the later years. Yet it is to Brain that the ear always returns,
and always gratefully. Not a single phrase has even the slightest
ungainly bump; tonguing is light yet defined; slow movements possess
the most silken legato. It is well nigh impossible to select isolated
moments, for this is as near to flawless horn playing as we can
expect this side of the veil.
restoration is of the highest possible standard. If there is still
a little distancing of the orchestra's wind instruments, this
remains the clearest sound I have heard for these accounts. Magnificent.
The Briggs disc added
a Haydn Trumpet Concerto that actually overshadowed her own contribution.
No-one could surely ever overshadow Brain in musicianship, and
so it is that Walter Gieseking emerges more as Brain's complement.
Despite the later recording date by two years, the sound of the
Quintet is a little less focused. It is biased towards Gieseking's
piano. Yet there is a huge amount of delight to be had here as
- so it sounds - a group of friends make the most heavenly chamber
music, just for us, the listeners at home. Dialogues are a joy,
both between piano and ensemble and within the wind ensemble itself.
The slow movement flows with preternaturally perfect ease. Just
listen to Brain's solo at 2:53ff – how many horn players today
can deliver such delicious grace?
This disc is pure
joy. At the price, it is almost a crime not to snap it up.