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Dennis Brain – The Horn Player
see end of review for details
rec. various locations 1943-47
EMI CLASSICS ICON 2060102 [4 CDs: 76:42 + 76:58 + 75:21 + 77:03]
Experience Classicsonline

This is a feast in terms of both the music and the performances, and I must waste no time in strongly recommending the purchase of this set. It contains playing of astonishing musicianship in both established masterworks and some fascinating rarities. There are interesting notes by Stephen Pettit from which I derive the biographical information in this review and which set the various recordings in the context of Dennis Brain’s career.
The first disc includes several of his earliest solo recordings. He had been playing since he was a teenager with the BBC Symphony Orchestra where his father, Aubrey Brain, was principal horn. He was in the RAF Band during the war but his first solo recording was made in 1943 when he was 22. This is the first item here – Mozart’s Fourth Horn Concerto - and it may be something of a surprise if you have known and loved his later recording (also included here). Putting it simply, whereas this early recording is certainly adequate technically and is always musical in its approach, it lacks the individuality and subtlety of the later performance. Partly this may be a result of what can only be described as a very rough accompaniment by the Hallé Orchestra of that time. His next recording – the Beethoven Sonata with Denis Matthews and only some seven months later – was much more musically confident and interesting to the listener, and from then on it was success after success for this recordings in musical terms. The earlier versions of the Second Mozart Concerto with the Philharmonia and Walter Susskind and of the First Richard Strauss Concerto with the same orchestra and Alceo Galliera are not significantly inferior to the later and better known versions. This set would indeed be worth having at the kind of prices at which it has been advertised just for the latter, but in fact they are by no means the main interest here.
I would suggest that this lies in the chamber works, in particular the Mozart Piano and Wind Quintet with Colin Horsley as a superbly individual pianist, the Lennox Berkeley Trio, again with Colin Horsley, and the Gordon Jacob Sextet. Why the latter is not frequently performed with the Poulenc Sextet is a mystery. It is an immediately impressive piece which reveals more at each hearing. For me it is the highlight of the set, although the Hindemith Concerto conducted by the composer runs it close.
As well as all these wonderful and important works there are also a variety of short works and curiosities. The latter include an unaccompanied performance of Siegfried’s horn call and part of Leopold Mozart’s Concerto for hosepipe, played at one of the Hoffnung concerts. Interesting to hear once, and they only take up a fraction of the contents of the discs. There are several short works for wind alone, to which I have found myself returning over and over again out of pleasure at the sheer musicianship displayed, and examples of his work as a member of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Cantelli’s delightfully spontaneous sounding performance of Mozart’s Musical Joke thoroughly deserves its place as does the first movement of Haydn’s Hornsignal Symphony – what a pity that the rest was not recorded at that time.
Inevitably none of these recordings is under 51 years old as Dennis Brain died in a car crash in September 1957, but the sound is generally good apart from the first recording of the Mozart Fourth Concerto which is boxy and somewhat coarse. I have listened repeatedly with increasing pleasure to this set which is irresistible for its sheer musical pleasure.
John Sheppard

Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
1. Horn Concerto No. 1 in D K412 [8:23]
2,3. Horn Concerto No. 2 in E flat K417 [2 versions – 13:00; 13:48]
4. Horn Concerto No. 3 in E flat K447 [15:45]; (5, 6)
5,6. Horn Concerto No. 4 in E flat K495 [2 versions – 16:49; 16:02]
7. Quintet for piano and wind in E flat K452 [23:00]
8. Eine Musikalischer Spass K522 [19:23]; (9)
9. Divertimento in B flat K270 (arr. Anthony Baines) [8:52]; (10)
10. Divertimento in E flat K289 (Minuet and Adagio only) [5:52]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) (11, 12)
11,12. Horn Concerto No. 1 in Eb [2 versions – 14:56; 15:17]
13. Horn Concerto No. 2 in E flat [18:16]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
14. Horn Sonata in F Op 7 [14:25]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
15. Siegfried’s Horn Call [1:25]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
16. Adagio and Allegro in A flat Op 70 [8:15]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
17. Nocturne from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Op 61 [6:58]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
18. Horn Concerto [14:56]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
19. Trio for violin, horn and piano [26:22]
Carl Ditters von DITTERSDORF (1739-1799)
20. Partita in D (Minuet and Trio only) [2:46]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
21. Symphony No. 31 in D (“Hornsignal”) (first movement only) [3:40]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
22. Trois Pièces Brèves [7:05]
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)
23. Sextet for wind [20:45]
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
24. Villanelle [6:10]
Leopold MOZART (1719-1787)
25. Concerto for hosepipe and strings (Finale only) [1:41]

Dennis Brain (horn & hosepipe) (1-25)
Hallé Orchestra (3): Philharmonia Orchestra (1-4,6,8,12,13,17,18): London Baroque Ensemble ((20); Unnamed Orchestra (21); Morley College Symphony Orchestra (25)
Sir Malcolm Sargent (conductor) (3): Lawrence Turner (conductor) (3): Alceo Galliera (conductor) (11); Paul Kletzki (conductor) (17); Herbert von Karajan (conductor) (1,2,4,6); Wolfgang Sawallisch (conductor) (12,13); Paul Hindemith (conductor) (18); Guido Cantelli (conductor) (8); Karl Haas (conductor) (20); Sir Jack Westrup (conductor) (21); Norman del Mar (conductor) (25)
Denis Matthews (piano) (14); Gerald Moore (piano) (16,24); Colin Horsley (piano) (7,19); Dennis Brain Ensemble (7,9,10,22,23); Manoug Parikian (violin) (19)


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