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Aubrey Brain plays Bach, Brahms, Glazunov and Mozart -
appreciated by

'... music making of the highest calibre ...'

Great horn players in historic recordings - Aubrey Brain. © 2003 Sotone Historic Recordings

The Sotone label was new to me, but it specialises in making available to present-day listeners, the artistry of great performers of the past; a laudable intention indeed, especially as it gives us insight not only into performers, but into performance practices of different eras. The present CD is devoted to the legendary hornplayer Aubrey Brain, father, of course, of the even more legendary Dennis. In the event, however, since only two of the works feature the horn as exclusive soloist, a whole gallery of twentieth century musicians is showcased, including Adolf Busch, Evelyn Rothwell, Francis Bradley and York Bowen.

The most significant of the solo works is the Mozart concerto K417, the recording of which (in 1927), is believed to be the first of a horn concerto. The performance should not be judged on the evidence of the first movement, where, because of the limited length of 78 sides, severe cuts had to be made, and Mozart's seamless sonata-allegro is cruelly butchered into bleeding chunks. Worse, in what I can only assume is an attempt to dispense with as much non-solo material as possible, soloist and conductor seem to be at odds in the matter of overall tempo. Thus, after just a handful of bars of ritornello, delivered at a breakneck speed, the soloist enters at, and insists upon, a much more sedate and measured tempo. The effect is bizarre. But, for all that, Brain's playing has great character and nobility, and even here, his outstanding artistry can be appreciated.

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Copyright © 14 March 2004 David Thompson, Essex UK


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