BBC Legends – Dennis Brain

0 of 5 stars

Quintet for piano and wind in E flat, Op.16
Sextet for wind quintet and piano, Op.3
Sonata for horn and piano
Hunter’s Moon

Benjamin Britten (piano), Leonard Brain (oboe), Stephen Waters (clarinet), Dennis Brain (horn) & Cecil James (bassoon)

Gareth Morris (flute), Leonard Brain (oboe), Stephen Waters (clarinet), Dennis Brain (horn), Cecil James (bassoon) & George Malcolm (piano)

Dennis Brain (horn) & Noel Mewton-Wood (piano)

Dennis Brain (horn)
BBC Concert Orchestra
Vilem Tausky

Beethoven recorded on 22 June 1955 at the Aldeburgh Festival; the remainder are from BBC Studios, London – Jacob on 22 July 1957; Hindemith 28 January 1953; Vinter 16 June 1957

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: May 2005
BBCL 4164-2
Duration: 65 minutes

Although this CD focuses on Dennis Brain, the third such BBC Legends release to do so, it’s the performance of the Beethoven that is particularly interesting for having Benjamin Britten as the pianist. It’s a characterful account all round; yet Britten brings an indefinable quality to his playing that constantly diverts the ear to him. There is also some fine woodwind playing too, of course – including effortless dynamic changes within a phrase from Dennis Brain and pungent bassoon sonorities from Cecil James. This Aldeburgh Festival account is an amiable one, in which the lack of a first movement repeat seems inevitable and is commensurate with the musicians’ leisurely and neighbourly enjoyment of a likeable piece; in essence a serenade.

Gordon Jacob’s five-movement Sextet – now with George Malcolm as pianist – is a delight in its clarity, touching expression and rhythmic sleights. As Tully Potter annotates in his booklet note, it’s a “French-sounding” work, and intensified as such through the use of Gareth Morris’s wooden flute and Cecil James’s French bassoon. Jacob’s Sextet is an enjoyable listen. Should you not know, or be curious: oboist Leonard Brain was Dennis’s brother and, here, is an eloquent contributor to the opening of the third movement ‘Cortège’, the emotional core of Jacob’s Sextet, which was recorded less than six weeks before Dennis Brain was killed – in the early hours of 1 September 1957, he was driving back from the Edinburgh Festival; as he neared London his car crashed, presumably as a result of him falling asleep at the wheel.

Four years earlier Brain had recorded Hindemith’s Sonata, a fluent account of tightly organised music, and here enjoying Brain’s virtuosity and timbral variety. Pianist Noel Mewton-Wood makes a considerable contribution, too; he was a major talent similarly lost to the world at an early age: Mewton-Wood took his own life in 1953 (the year of this Hindemith recording), aged 31.

The CD ends on a welcome light note with Gilbert Vinter’s Hunter’s Moon, illustrative music with a lyrical heart and warmly orchestrated. If the recordings are not the most pristine (even for the period), they have been beautifully re-mastered by Tony Faulkner to sound of their best.

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