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CD Review

Dennis Brain Plays Chamber Music

  • Wolfgang Mozart: Quintet for Horn, Violin, 2 Violas and Cello in E Flat Major, K 407 (386c) 1
  • Johannes Brahms: Trio for Horn, Violin and Piano in E Flat Major, Op. 40 2
  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Quintet for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon and Horn in E Flat Major, Op. 16 3
  • Paul Dukas: Villanelle for Horn and Piano 4
  • Marin Marais: Vielles danses françaises #5 "Le Basque" 4
Dennis Brain, horn
1 English String Quartet
2 Max Salpeter, violin
2 Cyril Preedy, piano
3 Dennis Brain Ensemble
4 Wilfrid Parry, piano
BBC Legends BBCL4048-2 72m ADD
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In August 1957, when Dennis Brain was returning to London after playing in the Philharmonia Orchestra, he was involved in a horrendous accident which left him victim at the young age of 36. So was cruelly cut short a career of an incomparable artist, who was already famous as one of the greatest horn players of all time. Although at the time of his death, his recorded legacy was growing, the number of actual recordings he left behind can almost be counted on one's fingers.

So this issue is most welcome, particularly for the Beethoven Quintet which was taped live at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 24th August 1957, just a few days before his untimely demise. The performance here is a testimony to Brain's knowledge and appreciation of Beethoven and also to his keen sense of balance and rhythm. The accompanying wind ensemble bears his own name and the rapport he builds with them throughout the execution of this work is truly admirable, never attempting to dominate and constantly conversing with his colleagues, as they attempt to recreate the beauties of this Quintet to their mutual liking.

The Mozart and Brahms were both recorded in February 1957 at the BBC Studios in London; so naturally, they do not display that spontaneity of a live concert. Nevertheless Brain easily manages to bring to the fore the poetic brilliance of Mozart's work and Brahms' romantically heroic timbre in the Op. 40 Trio. Again Brain never allows his natural virtuosity to overcome the support of the English String Quartet (in the Mozart) or Max Salpterer's and Cyril Preedy's contributions (in the Brahms). These are indeed performances to warm the heart and uplift the mind, pure, charming and at times delightfully amusing.

The disc also includes two very short works by Dukas and Marais performed during the Beethoven concert with consummate musicianship and vivid imagination. The pianissimo in Dukas' 'Vilanelle' almost defies belief while in Marais' miniature, 'Le Basque', he is able to bring out his inner happiness and humility for which he was so much loved and admired. This can be taken to be Dennis Brain's swan song then with highly informative annotations and excellent recorded sound, considering its age.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech