EMI Classics 3 38603 2, 77:26 *****:
The recording of the four Mozart Horn Concertos (12-23 November 1953) with the great British horn player Dennis Brain (1921-1957) remains a perennial classic, ever since its first instantiation on Angel LP (35092). It was my first experience with Dennis Brain and with Herbert von Karajan. Two years later, I saw Brain on the Dave Garroway Today Show and Karajan in New York directing Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony. Born into a family of accomplished horn players, Dennis Brain extended the French style of seamless delivery and the arched, long line. The recording of the E-flat Concerto, K. 417 has no peer. I doubt any of the performances has an equal, note-for-note. The Piano Quintet (19, 23 May 1954) features New Zealand pianist Colin Horsley, with whom Brain recorded a trio by Lennox Berkeley.
Dennis Brain formed the Dennis Brain Wind Ensemble in 1946, which featured brother Leonard Brain on the oboe; Stephen Waters, clarinet; and Cecil James, bassoon. The opening flowing line in the Largo of the Quintet has the light-fingered Horsley paired with winds and with Brain alternately, in delicate contrast of textures. The operatic cadence to the Allegro moderato section reveals Mozart at his most facile, coloring every bar with striking invention – almost a music-box concerto. The two brothers collaborate most songfully for the Larghetto. Stephen Waters’ clarinet and Leonard Brain’s oboe, the puffing bassoon of Cecil James, each conspire with Horsley’s buffa keyboard part to make Mozartean magic in final Rondo-Allegro. The concertante texture allows some delicious, symphonic interplay, an affirmation on every level. EMI need not re-issue this disc any more: it should be required for music lovers, in whatever future formats these performances might appear.