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BRETT DEAN  

(b 1961 )

Celebrated as one of Australia’s foremost musicians, Brett Dean studied at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music, Brisbane, later taking viola lessons with Wolfram Christ (then principal violist of the Berlin Philharmonic) and joining the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. Like Hindemith before him Dean is well known as both violist and composer; his compositional style – largely self-taught – often involves layering sounds and textures and sometimes uses abstract sonic ‘events’. He labels himself a traditionalist and, with his audience very much in mind, likes to create ‘long lines and melodic motivic materials’. Dean has a clear appreciation of the compositional benefit of being a violist: ‘…there’s something distinctive about playing inner parts… It gives you an overview upwards and downwards of… the workings of a piece’ – a benefit famously shared before him by Mozart, Schubert, Dvořák, and Britten. Dean’s works are widely performed by major international artists and ensembles; Frank Peter Zimmermann gave the premiere of his violin concerto The Lost Art of Letter Writing with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in 2007.

Highlights of Dean’s playing career include a performance of Hindemith’s Viola d’amore Concerto during the Hindemith centenary in 1995, the premiere of his own concerto with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and over fifty other premieres of works by composers such as Rihm, Kurtág, Matthews and Henze. He has also performed with his brother, clarinettist Paul Dean, and pianist Stephen Emmerson as the Dean–Emmerson–Dean Trio.

Dean’s playing is stylistically unremarkable; he is a capable executor and all the recordings selected here evidence a sensitive approach. At times, as in Mozart’s ‘Kegelstatt’ Trio (1993), he seems rather too self-effacing and distant; at others, as in the Hindemith, Bruch and Tchemberdji, he plays very much as part of the ensemble, integrating seamlessly with the other instruments and illustrating his fine credentials as an ensemble player. There is cleanliness in his tone and a well-shaped and considered approach, mirrored indeed by his compositional style. This is not to say that his playing lacks fire (there is some bold colouration in the Hindemith and Bruch performances) but rather that he concentrates on transmitting the music rather than his own soloistic personality, a quality that is most appealing. Both his Viola Concerto (2006) and Intimate Decisions (1997) have not only a very varied and imaginative tonal palette, but also a sound-world that encourages complicity from the audience. Dean’s performances of these works show him to be an impressive all-round musician.

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