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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The Naxos coupling chooses a different but no less attractive early version of the Quintet with Gieseking, which many will prefer. God transfers of these still unsurpassed classic performances by the legendary Dennis Brain from Mark Obert-Thorn.

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, May 2007

Recently, I reviewed Claire Briggs' generally routine take on Mozart's 'famous four'. There is nothing of the routine whatsoever about Brain's famous recordings. I lived with the LP of these concertos for many years: ASD1140 was the particular incarnation, although they existed originally on a Columbia 33CX. Malcolm Walker, who writes the perceptive notes for the current issue, avers that this 1953 version of the concerto, “continues to be the yardstick by which all subsequent versions are measured”. How right he is. There is a freshness of spirit here that makes one wonder if there are not parallels to be made between Brain and Mozart himself – both died young, leaving a legacy that is at once as individual as it is unassailable. Brain's greatest achievement was that he plays as if the horn is not a difficult instrument. It is simply the medium through which he interprets this music; and these interpretations are of the highest possible standard.

Karajan's accompaniment is made of pure gold. The Philharmonia plays like a group of descended gods for him, and there is none of the streamlined phrasings of the later years. Yet it is to Brain that the ear always returns, and always gratefully. Not a single phrase has even the slightest ungainly bump; tonguing is light yet defined; slow movements possess the most silken legato. It is well nigh impossible to select isolated moments, for this is as near to flawless horn playing as we can expect this side of the veil.

Mark Obert-Thorn's restoration is of the highest possible standard. If there is still a little distancing of the orchestra's wind instruments, this remains the clearest sound I have heard for these accounts. Magnificent.

The Briggs disc added a Haydn Trumpet Concerto that actually overshadowed her own contribution. No-one could surely ever overshadow Brain in musicianship, and so it is that Walter Gieseking emerges more as Brain's complement. Despite the later recording date by two years, the sound of the Quintet is a little less focused. It is biased towards Gieseking's piano. Yet there is a huge amount of delight to be had here as - so it sounds - a group of friends make the most heavenly chamber music, just for us, the listeners at home. Dialogues are a joy, both between piano and ensemble and within the wind ensemble itself. The slow movement flows with preternaturally perfect ease. Just listen to Brain's solo at 2:53ff – how many horn players today can deliver such delicious grace?

This disc is pure joy. At the price, it is almost a crime not to snap it up.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, January 2007

On the first day of September 1957 a motoring accident deprived the world of the finest horn player it had ever known. Dennis Brain had been born to play the instrument, both his grandfather and father having been distinguished exponents, though none could rival the sheer virtuosity that took Dennis into the horn's uncharted territory. He was only 36 at the time but had already achieved legendary status, somehow managing to combine a demanding solo career with the dual position as leading horn in the Philharmonia and Royal Philharmonic orchestras. Sadly his name was to appear on too few releases, though his presence in the Philharmonia's many discs is felt with the quality of his solo passages, Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier being one particular example. Maybe today his recording of the Mozart concertos will feel too comfortable to the period instrument brigade, and Karajan's tempos a degree too easy going. But such effortless playing is unforgettable and has never been equalled on disc, the smooth legato passages a constant joy, while the sheer feeling of Mozartian elegance is matched by the unparalleled range of colours. He greatly loved chamber music and here combines with a trio of colleagues from the wind section of the Philharmonia, and the elegant piano of Walter Giesaking in Mozart's well-loved Quintet. I cannot imagine a fortepiano was being used, but that is the general sound of an instrument placed much forward of the wind players in these 1955 sessions. Tempos are sprightly, the feel of the music is just right, and it is a recording no Brain fan can be without, but it is not a top recommendation. Though the original 1955 concerto recording captured the horn superbly in the concertos, the orchestral sound was woolly on my original LP and the Naxos transfer team could do nothing to correct one very obvious edit.  

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