Mozart: Horn Concertos; Quintet, K 452

Dennis Brain

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Mozart: Horn Concertos; Quintet, K 452 Review

by Stephen Eddins

In spite of his tragically brief career, British horn player Dennis Brain was one of the few wind players of the 20th century to achieve something close to superstar status. Besides reviving interest in the great horn literature from the past, he inspired many composers to expand its solo and chamber music repertoire, including Hindemith, Poulenc, and a number of British composers, most notably Britten, who wrote some of his most sublime music for Brain. His recording of the four Mozart horn concertos remains a classic, and it's reissued here with Mozart's Quintet for piano and winds, K. 452. While there are certainly a variety of approaches to the concertos, it would be hard to deny that Brain's performance comes about as close to perfection as imaginable. His tone is distinctively noble, pure, creamy, and full, and his technique is unimpeachable. One of the most striking things about his performance is its seamlessness, and his velvety legato has seldom been surpassed. Most importantly, he brings poise and an innate sense of elegance to the concertos that are ideal for this serenely beautiful music. Herbert von Karajan leads the Philharmonia Orchestra in a graceful, appropriately understated accompaniment. The orchestra is larger than what has become standard since the advent of historically informed performance practice, with its leaner ensembles and use of period instruments, but Karajan's crisp readings are models of mid-20th century Mozart performances. Mozart wrote that his Quintet for piano and winds, K. 452, was "the best thing so far I have written in my life," and it is exceptionally graceful, inventive, and witty. Pianist Colin Horsley and the Dennis Brain Wind Ensemble play it with the delicacy and finely calibrated precision to make it really sparkle. The somewhat distant mono sound is a drawback, particularly in the concertos, but it can be ameliorated by boosting the volume a little. It is clean, though, and does capture the magic of Brain's sound and interpretations.

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