Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 5 (1888) [49.45]
Nutcracker Suite (1892) [32.01]
Dennis Brain (horn)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Herbert von Karajan
rec. 1952-53, Kingsway Hall, London
Originally released: EMI Columbia mono.
OPUS KURA OPK7029 [72.53]
I so wanted to ask for Recording of the Month status for this CD but the depleted sound quality of that essential horn solo in the Andante cantabile second movement in this transfer is not sufficiently good to merit that award. Nonetheless it deserves special recognition for the reasons I will explain below.
How well I remember this recording. How much I regret parting with the original LP (Columbia 33CX 1133) thinking it would be transferred to CD; no such luck except for this transfer from an LP purchased in the UK. I remember buying my LP while on my first visit to Rome in 1957, at the tender age of 21. This was a rather unusual location for a purchase considering the recording was made in London’s Kingsway Hall, the venue for illustrious recordings many produced over the years for rival company Decca by Kenneth Wilkinson. My particular pressing came in a bright blue sleeve with silver lettering. Dennis Brain made a recording of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5 for Decca in 1944 with the National Symphony Orchestra/Sidney Beer and the Andante cantabile slow movement of that is on CD, Beulah 1PD35, which Presto lists as still available.
Curt Timmons, Klassic Haus Restorations writes: “From the research I've done in the past, neither EMI UK nor EMI Japan reissued the mono Karajan/Philharmonia Tchaikovsky 5th during the 90s CD legacy recording blitz; a bit surprising. I've come across North American vinyl issues on occasion (Angel 35055), both in the older red/black/whitish-silver print, and later sky-blue/silver print label pressings. None of my esteemed colleagues (Haydn House, Pristine, ReDiscovery) who perform restorations have done a remaster; I may consider a restoration, if I can find a decent copy - the ones I've seen have been worn out beyond salvaging).”
First, and appropriately, let’s look at the contribution Dennis Brain made to this recording. He came from a family of distinguished exponents of the instrument. His father, Aubrey Brain (1893–1955), held the principal horn position in the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The notes to this Opus Kura CD describe Dennis Brain’s playing at the beginning of the second movement of the Symphony thus: “… Brain’s sound has scale, with rich swelling feeling, and a warm and stable sonority; it instinctively charms the listener; and mixes beautifully with the Philharmonia woodwinds …” Very well put. The difficulty I have with it though is that time has not been kind to the condition of the LP used in the transfer. I am sure I was very much more impressed with Brain’s horn sound on my LP when I listened to it so many times all those years ago. Please note my plea in the final paragraph of this review.
Dennis Brain’s contribution is not the whole of this magnificent performance. Karajan’s reading with the Philharmonia’s young virtuoso players is stunning, the third waltz movement has charm and grace. The second Andante cantabile movement with that horn solo is eloquent and heroic – that march theme was surely used to support the titles of the celebrated American wartime documentary series The March of Time? And the finale – wow it is delivered at white heat excitement. All this I listened to again in great exhilaration remembering every shade of nuance, every small detail and the thrilling pacing. Amazing what the mind can store over so many years.
Now why is it that there has not been a refurbishment from the original tapes made from this fabulous recording? I am asking our Classical Editor to forward my review to the appropriate people asking them to consider such a refurbishment.