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CD: Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS


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

Brain deserves his place in the Icon series by virtue of his exalted status in the demanding ranks of solo horn players. That said much of the material here is of the EMI merry-go-round variety and will be over-familiar to many. Which is not to decry its availability in this four disc, very reasonably priced box.
The Brain/Karajan Mozart concerto cycle has long been a staple of the catalogues. It’s currently available in a number of guises from EMI’s own GROC incarnation and Naxos’ restoration to an Andromeda transfer and things in between. A live K447 with that masterful conductor Hans Rosbaud has shown how much more flair and immediacy the less well known collaboration was able to generate; and this despite the critically accepted truism that the Karajan-Brain partnership was a Rolls Royce affair. It is of course; it’s just that I’d prefer to have heard Brain with Rosbaud in all four (the Second Concerto also exists).
This box however does include Brain’s first ever recording, of the Fourth Concerto K495 in which Laurence Turner, the Hallé Orchestra’s leader, conducts the finale (which was recorded first) and Malcolm Sargent – who was late – the remainder. It preserves the sound of the Raoux French horn that Brain was later to lay aside in favour of the wide-bore German; the Karajan sessions were made with a German horn. The 1946 recording of the Second Concerto K417 with Süsskind is another example of a congenial partnership. Brain considered that some of his very finest playing on disc came in the 1947 recording of Strauss’s First Concerto with Galliera. Certainly the ebullience, bravura, legato and tonal beauty are remarkable examples of his art and this is an absolutely essential Brain artefact. The rest of the first disc includes the Beethoven sonata recording with Denis Matthews – splendid ensemble, witty and wise phrasing. His Schumann with Gerald Moore is mellifluous; the Wagner extract derives from the Instruments of the Orchestra set presided over by Sargent.
The second disc includes the Mozart Karajan performances as well as the Quintet for piano and wind in E flat K452 where he’s joined by his Wind Ensemble and pianist Colin Horsley.  The better-known recording is the Gieseking-Brain-Sutcliffe-Walton-James one from 1955 but this earlier May 1954 recording is, if less starry, probably better balanced as an ensemble.
The third disc gives us a parade of great performances. The 1956 recordings of both Strauss concertos with Sawallich are here. Brain had long since shifted to the German double horn so interest accrues from hearing the tonal qualities of the two horns in the First Concerto; the earlier recording with Galliera was of the unrevised work but with Sawallich Brain of course recorded the revised version. The composer-conducted Hindemith was a shoe-in for this set though its origins were problematic. Brain was to have recorded it with Klemperer in 1954 but the two men didn’t get on at all and their attempt at a recording broke down. The Berkeley Trio is more evidence of his exploratory attitude to contemporary compositions and his excellence in realising them.
The final disc gives us Eine Musikalischer Spass K522 with Cantelli and colleagues Manoug Parikian and Neill Sanders. As Heifetz once proved in private you have to be very good to play this badly. The Gordon Jacob Sextet is another example of the superior standards set by Brain’s own Ensemble – not surprising given the names involved here; Gareth Morris, Leonard Brain, Stephen Waters, Cecil James and George Malcolm (on the piano). There are examples from HMV’s History of Music in Sound album – Haydn and Mozart’s K289 and the famous Hoffnung concert where Brain played a hosepipe.
Stephen Pettit, Brain’s biographer, has compiled some relevant booklet notes. The transfers are unproblematic, the box sturdy and the price right.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by John Sheppard

Track Details
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 and 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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