A Collection for Brain-iacs

Brain cover 190296756634

DENNIS BRAIN HOMAGE / 11-CD set, contents as below / Dennis Brain, Fr-hn on all tracks. PO=Philharmonia Orchestra; DBWE=Dennis Brain Wind Ensemble (DB, Neill Saunders, Edmund Chapman, Alfred Cursue, Fr-hn; Emanuel Hurwitz, vln; Terence Weil, cel; Gareth Morris, fl) / Warner Classics 190296756634

CD 1: MOZART: Divertimento No. 17 in D, K. 334 / Aubrey Brain, Fr-hn; Lener Qrt. / Horn Concerto No. 2 / PO; Walter Susskind, cond / Horn Concerto No. 4 / Hallé Orch., cond. Malcolm Sargent (1st mvmt), Laurence Turner (2nd-4th mvmts) / Cosi fan Tutte: Per pieta [sung in English] / Joan Cross, sop; PO, Laurence Collingwood, cond.

CD 2: BEETHOVEN: Horn Sonata / Denis Matthews, pno / STRAUSS: Horn Concerto No. 1 / PO, Alceo Galliera, cond / MOZART: Divertimento No. 16 in Eb, K. 289 (excerpts) / DBWE / Cosi fan Tutte: Per pieta / Sena Jurinac, sop; Glyndebourne Orch.; Fritz Busch, cond / SCHUMANN: Adagio & Allegro. DUKAS: Villanelle / Gerald Moore, pno / HAYDN: Symphony No. 31, “Horn Signal,” I. Allegro / PO, J.A. Westrup, cond / MENDELSSOHN: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Nocturne / PO, Rafael Kubelik, cond. DELIUS: A Mass of Life: Prelude / w/Ian Beers, Ray White, Fr-hn; Royal Philharmonic Orch.; Sir Thomas Beecham, cond / WAGNER: Siegfried: Siegfried’s horn call

CD 3: MOZART: Piano Quintet in Eb, K. 452 / 2 vers: 1) DBWE, Colin Horsley, pno. 2) Bernard Walton, cl; Sidney Sutcliffe, ob; Cecil James, bsn; Walter Gieseking, pno / Ein Musikalischer Spaβ / PO, Guido Cantelli, cond / Divertimento No. 14 in Bb, K. 270 / DBWE, George Malcolm, pno

CD 4: BEETHOVEN: Piano Quintet in Eb, Op. 16 / same as second Mozart Quintet recording in CD 3 / STRAUSS: Horn Concertos Nos. 1 & 2 / PO, Wolfgang Sawallisch, cond / MENDELSSOHN: A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Nocturne / PO, Paul Kletzki, cond / L. MOZART: Concerto for Hornpipe & Strings – excerpt / D. Brain, hosepipe; Hoffnung Symphony Orch., Norman del Mar, cond.

CD 5: BERKELEY: Horn Trio / Manoug Parikian, vln; Colin Horsley, pno/ HINDEMITH: Horn Concerto / PO, Paul Hindemith, cond / G. JACOB: Sextet. IBERT: Trois Pièces Breves / DBWE

CD 6: MOZART: Horn Concertos Nos. 1-4. BACH: Mass in B Minor: Quomiam tu solus sanctus* / STRAUSS: Four Last Songs+ / *Heinz Rehfuss, bar; +Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, sop; PO, Herbert von Karajan, cond

CD 7: MOZART: Sinfonia Concertante in Eb, K. 297b.* Divertimento No. 15 in Bb, K. 287. Cosi fan tutte: Per pieta+ / *Sidney Sutcliffe, ob; Bernard Walton, cl; Cecil James, bsn. +Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, sop; PO, Herbert von Karajan, cond

CD 8: HANDEL: Overture (Suite), HWV 424 / Frederick Thurston, Gervase de Peyer, cl / Aria in F, HWV 410. Aria in F, HWV 411 / Stanley Smith, Natalie James, Michael Dobson, Edward Selwyn, ob; Edward Wilson, Cecil James, bsn; Alfred Cursue, Fr-hn / HAYDN: Divertimento in C, “Feldparthie,” Hob.II:7. Notturno No. 3 in C, Hob.II:32 / MOZART: Serenades Nos. 11 in Eb, K. 375 & 12 in C min., K. 388 / London Baroque; Karl Haas, cond

CD 9: C.P.E. BACH: Six Sonatinas: in Eb, Wq. 184/4; in G, Wq. 184/3; in C, Wq. 184/6; in F, Wq. 184/2; in D, Wq. 184/1; in A, Wq. 184/5. DITTERSDORF: Partita in D. MOZART: Serenades Nos. 11 in Eb, K. 375 & 12 in C min., K. 388 (stereo recordings) / London Baroque; Karl Haas, cond / MOZART: Serenade No. 11: IV. Minuet – Trio (Sextet version) / London Wind Players; Harry Blech, cond

CD 10: Dvořák: Serenade in D min., Op. 44. GOUNOD: Petite Symphonie. STRAUSS: Sonatina No. 2 in Eb, TrV 291, “Frohliche Werkstatt” / London Baroque; Karl Haas, cond

CD 11: BEETHOVEN: 11 Dances, WoO 17, “Mödlinger Tänze” Nos. 2, 1, 3, 10, 11. D’INDY:  Chansons et Danses, Op. 50. STRAUSS: Suite in Bb Major, Op. 4. R. ARNELL: Serenade, Op. 57. N. KAY: Miniature Quartet / London Baroque; Karl Haas, cond

Dying young due to an accident or illness is one sure way to become a legend in the classical world, the same as in the jazz or pop fields, but not all legends continue as such well beyond their time. Ginette Neveu was a wonderfully intense violinist, but no more intense than Joseph Szigeti or Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg who had careers of normal length. Pianist William Kapell left us some dazzling recordings, but the more his live performances emerge—particularly his Chopin—the less enthusiastic one becomes of him. Even so, there have been a few, aside from singers who are in a class of their own since their voices were wholly unique, whose names are still revered by those in the know, particularly pianist Dinu Lipatti and French horn player Dennis Brain.

Brain was the son of one well-known horn player (Aubrey) and the nephew of another (Alfred), both of whom were highly sought after as first horns by various orchestras. Aubrey, like his son, had a smooth, burnished tone and a fine technique, but lacked a bit of enthusiasm in his playing. Alfred had a somewhat flawed technique—his low range was always a problem, and he wasn’t as facile as his brother—but he was one of the damn most exciting horn players in the world. Edged out in England by his brother, Alfred came to the United States. A free spirit, he played for several years in the Cleveland Orchestra under Artur Rodzinski, then moved to the Northwest where he played with the Seattle Symphony under Albert Coates. In the late 1940s, he became a chicken farmer and played as a free-lance horn player with various orchestras. Floating around somewhere out there in the ether is his recording of the Strauss Horn Concerto No. 1 with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, a bit rough around the edges but exciting enough to have you on the edge of your seat.

Dennis Brain 2

The legend persists that Dennis began playing the horn at the age of three, but in a 1956 BBC interview he dispelled that rumor, saying that if he had picked up dad’s horn and tooted a few notes he didn’t remember it. He began piano lessons around age 7 and continued in that vein for several years. At age 14, his father came up to him and suggested that he “have a go” at the horn. He took to it like a duck to water; in three years he was quickly surpassing his father in terms of technique and even style, and by the end of the 1940s he was already becoming a living legend.

Like his father and uncle, Dennis only played a single F Alexander (occasionally a single B-flat) from the late 1930s through 1944, but after the War, when he joined the brand-new Philharmonia Orchestra, he switched to a double horn, which has a thumb trigger that switches between F and B-flat when pressed. The Philharmonia was the brainchild of EMI’s classical recording director, Walter Legge, not just for recording purposes but to be a full-time performing group. This was not only an expensive proposition for a recording company to get involved in, but a risky one, as there were four other full-time orchestras in London: the London Philharmonic, London Symphony, BBC Symphony and the Hallé Orchestra. After conducting the premiere concert of the Philharmonia, Sir Thomas Beecham got into a big argument over power-sharing. Beecham decided to form an orchestra of his own, which became the Royal Philharmonic, so now Legge had five rivals to content with. Even more frustrating to Legge, Dennis decided to be principal horn of both the Philharmonia and the Royal Philharmonic from 1946 to 1948, later rejoining them for Beecham’s tour of the United States with that orchestra in 1950 (he also played for them on and off until April 1954, and in December 1953 he made, unbilled, one last appearance with them on record, the “Dawn and Rhine Journey” music from Wagner’s Götterdämmerung). Yet the Philharmonia prevailed because it really was the best British orchestra of its day, not only with Brain leading the horns but with the vastly underrated Manoug Parikian as concertmaster and the finest first-chair players in all of England. Robert Marshall’s superb Brain discography, available for free reading or download online by clicking HERE, includes a listing of all of Dennis’ recordings both live and commercial, and the number of records he made with the Philharmonia alone from 1945 to 1957 is simply staggering. One of the most famous was the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 led by Constantin Silvestri because of the way Dennis phrased the horn solo in the slow movement, but time and fashion have apparently buried this recording because I couldn’t find it online.

An avid motorist, Brain owned a Triumph TR2 sports car and was known for careening around the back roads of England at speeds near 100 mph, but he was also known as an excellent driver. During Philharmonia rehearsals, when he was bored, he would read his motoring magazines which he had on his music stand instead of the scores, which he usually had memorized. On September 1, 1957, after finishing a concert led by Eugene Ormandy in Edinburgh, he decided to drive home that very night even though he hadn’t slept well the night before and was overtired. His colleagues begged him to stay in Edinburgh overnight and avoid a trip of 534km or 332 miles in the dead of night, but Brain convinced them that, since he was an excellent driver, he’d make it. He didn’t. He fell asleep at the wheel and crashed his car less than two miles from his home, an accident in which he died instantly. Thus the career of the greatest horn player of his time—some would say, of all time—came to an abrupt and tragic end.

It wasn’t just his near-flawless technique and ease in absorbing boatloads of new music that made him a legend. It was the fact that only Dennis Brain could actually change the coloration of the sound on one held note—not just  change the volume level, but the color of the sound. Of later horn players, only Marie-Luise Neunecker can do this, but not to the full extent than Dennis could. You can hear this especially well in one live recording not included in this set, the 1954 performance of Schubert’s Auf der strom with tenor Richard Lewis (it’s on YouTube).

This set doesn’t include his very first recording, but that one didn’t really show him to much advantage. It was a recording of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 14 played by Rudolf Serkin and the Busch Chamber Players (apparently using the reduced orchestration) conducted by Adolf Busch. His father played first horn and Dennis second. It does, however, start with a chamber work featuring father and son, Mozart’s Divertimento No. 17 with the outstanding Lener String Quartet from February 16, 1939. The horns really don’t get a lot to play, and most of the time they are receded in sound, but when they do come forward you can appreciate their warmth of sound. From this we jump to two of his most famous earlier recordings, the Mozart Horn Concerto No. 2 conducted by Walter Susskind (March 1946) and the Mozart Concerto 4 labelConcerto No. 4 conducted by Malcolm Sargent (first movement) and Laurence Turner (second through fourth movements) from June 21, 1943. Why they used two different conductors on the same day remains a mystery; possibly Sargent had artistic differences or simply an argument with the recording producer, and walked out. Both are played with Dennis’ usual gusto, but at the tail end of the Concerto No. 2 he makes a rare mistake, adding an extra note. Ironically, Brain fans around the world copied this in their own performances, only to discover when they read the score that this note was not in there! CD 1 ends with a rarity, “Per pieta” from Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte sung in English by soprano Joan Cross from January 1947. Cross is perhaps best known for having created the role of Ellen Orford in the world premiere of Britten’s Peter Grimes. She had a good singing technique but a very unattractive timbre, I would almost say an ugly voice. I hope she got down on her knees and kissed the ground every day of her life knowing that she was a British soprano singing in Great Britain; she would never have had such a big career anywhere else in the world.

CD 2 opens with two more famous recordings, the Beethoven Horn Sonata that he filmed with pianist Denis Matthews when both were serving as musicians in the British Army (April 3, 1944) and his first recording of the Strauss Horn Concerto No. 1 with Alceo Galliera conducting. But the latter performance isn’t nearly as exciting as the one he gave in March 1956 with Adrian Boult and the BBC Symphony, a recording originally unpublished that has since appeared on CD (ICA 5159, a multiple-CD set that also includes his performances of the Mozart Concerti 2 and 4 with Günther Wand and Paul Sacher, respectively, conducting). But this is just the first of several instances in this set where the Brain fancier will he scratching his or her head wondering what Warner Classics was thinking of. The rest of this CD consists of “bleeding chunks” from various chamber works and operas plus his famous studio recordings of the Schumann Adagio & Allegro and Dukas Villanelle with Gerald Moore as pianist. In the latter, you really pick up your ears at the perfection of his triple-tonguing. Of special interest here are the “Per pieta” sung by the fabulous Sena Jurinac, a soprano virtually forgotten nowadays (and Fritz Busch conducting) and the first movement of Haydn’s “Hornsignal” Symphony (No. 31), conducted by one J.A. Westrup, from September 1942. Another rarity is the “Nocturne” from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream music conducted not by Paul Kletzki, which is the famous recording (that shows up on CD 4), but by Rafael Kubelik. Not only is the tempo taken closer to score (meaning faster), but you hear all sorts of orchestral details in this performance that are not often recorded all that clearly.

CD 3 is where you really start scratching your head: not one, but two complete performances of Mozart’s Piano Quintet in E-flat, one with his “Dennis Brain Wind Ensemble,” a group that included both strings and winds from the Philharmonia which were used as needed for recordings with little-known Colin Horsley on piano, and another with a cast of distinguished soloists, particularly the great Bernard Walton on clarinet, Sidney Sutcliffe on oboe and Walter Gieseking as pianist. But since both are fairly common recordings and the Gieseking version is superior in every way (articulation, phrasing and pacing), why even bother with the first? Why not give us a fun piece where Dennis and the other Philharmonia horns whoop it up, William Steinberg’s wonder stereo recording from July 1957 of the suite from Der Rosenkavalier instead? It’s not all that common, it’s part of EMI’s archives, and he sounds great in it. Happily, we do get Guido Cantelli’s fine August 1955 recording—surprisingly, also in stereo—of Mozart’s A Musical Joke with Dennis having some fun, and a good performance of the same composer’s Divertimento No. 14 by the Brain Ensemble.

Incidentally, I ran across a website, MusicBio.org, which has a little blurb on it for the Brain Wind Ensemble obvious translated through one of those clumsy online translators from some foreign language, because it constantly translated “Brain” to “Mind.” This was particularly funny in the opening line, in which they said that “The Dennis Mind Blowing wind Quintet and Outfit were music artists who played chamber music concerts and recordings with Dennis Mind, among the great horn players of music history. Dennis Mind (Might 17, 1921-Sept. 1, 1957) was a child of Aubrey Mind (1893-1955), also a renowned horn participant. Dennis started his professional profession before graduating from the Royal Academy of Music in 1939, having discovered horn playing from his dad and body organ from G. D. Cunningham.” I wonder which body organ Dennis played.

CD 4 is almost great from start to finish: the Beethoven Quintet with Gieseking and the same musicians who did the superior Mozart Quintet, both of the Strauss Horn Concerti conducted by Sawallisch, and the very funny movement from Leopold Mozart’s Concerto for Hosepipe and Strings. This came from one of Gerard Hoffnung’s comical music festivals; Dennis just stuck a horn mouthpiece into a standard garden hose, put a horn bell ad the other end, and played. No valves. And he got all of the notes on pitch. The only bit of a downer is the too-slow version of the Midsummer Night’s Dream “Nocturne” with Paul Kletzki.

CD 5 opens with the excellent Horn Trio by Lennox Berkeley, played to perfection with Philharmonia concertmaster Manoug Parikian and pianist Colin Horsley, who apparently did much better in modern music than in Mozart. The Britten Serenade labelHindemith Horn Concerto is a famous recording with the composer himself conducting, but to be honest, Brain sounds bored. His playing is leaden, stodgy, and completely lacking feeling. Of course, Hindemith must share part of the blame for not inspiring him to play better, but to me this is one of Dennis’ poorest performances. His only real successor, Marie-Luise Neunecker, does a much better job of it on her recording with Werner Andreas Albert. Warner should have included the landmark 1944 recording of Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings instead—except that this was one of Dennis’ recordings made for British Decca, not EMI, and apparently Universal, which now owns the Decca catalogue, didn’t want to share it. Another reason to hate record companies. The Gordon Jacob Sextet and Ibert Trois Pièces Breves are, however, excellent pieces and very good performances.

CD 6 is the all-Karajan CD: the four Mozart Horn Concerti (famous recordings from May and November 1953; this is where Karajan caught him with a motoring magazine on his music stand, discovered he was a superb driver, and let him drive his own personal Mercedes), Bach’s “Quoniam tu solus sanctus” with baritone Heinz Rehfuss, and Strauss’ Four Last Songs with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf from June 1956. I’m sure there are people out there who are crazy about these recordings, but except for the Bach they really don’t impress me much. I never liked Karajan’s Mozart; despite the good, brisk tempi, he always sounded to me as if he was trying to make the violin section sound like 101 Strings, which is all wrong for Mozart, although I admit that this recording of the Concerto No. 4 is Brain’s best, and this is his only recording of the Concerto No. 1. For Concerto No. 2, I much prefer the performance by Hans Rosbaud and the SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden und Freiburg, available on Hänssler Classic 93129. No. 3 gets a more idiomatic reading from Hans Müller-Kray and the Stuttgart Radio Symphony, a 1952 performance on SWR Classics 10184.

As for the Strauss songs, the Karajan recording is, again, much too goopy and Schwarzkopf just doesn’t sound all that good. Amazingly, there is a far superior performance—also with the Philharmonia, from September 1953—in which Schwarzkopf sings very well with conductor Otto Ackermann. This is a much more exciting performance with superior sound to the Karajan, and in my view should have been included instead.

CD 7: More bloody f-ing Mozart. I mean, come on, already. Not everything he wrote was a masterpiece, and these Divertimenti are just that, little divertissements that he tossed off for wealthy patrons to talk and eat supper to. The Sinfonia Concertante in Eb is quite nice, however, and for once Karajan conducts Mozart with a unified string sound. At the end of the disc we get yet another “Per Pieta,” this time the one by Schwarzkopf from Karajan’s complete recording of Cosi. It’s nice, but she doesn’t sing it as well as Jurinac did and once again we get Herbie’s mushy Mozart sound. Why not include Schwarzkopf’s excellent “Abscheulischer” from Fidelio instead? Karajan conducts, but he was always a better in Beethoven than he was in Mozart, and Schwarzkopf is on fire here. Plus, Dennis sounds great in all the horn passages.

LBE LP coverCD 8: This is the first of four CDs featuring Brain with the “London Baroque,” not to be confused with the permanent performing band of the same name founded in 1978 by Charles Medlam and Ingrid Seifert. Surprising for me, the conductor is Karl Haas. Looking him up on Wikipedia, it seemed that he was the German-Jewish pianist who hosted the syndicated radio program Adventures in Good Music from 1959 until the 1990s, but there isn’t a single word on his Wikipedia bio about his living and working in England during the 1950s or his recordings with Dennis Brain. After further digging, I came to realize that there was another Karl Haas (1900-1970), a German conductor and musicologist who studied and worked in Karlsruhe, had a collection of rare and valuable early instruments, and emigrated to England in 1939. Around 1943 he founded the London Baroque Ensemble, which he led until 1966. Another surprise: although the recordings were issued on Parlophone and Odeon LPs in the U.K., in America they came out on the Westminster label. And not all of them included Dennis Brain. In this particular group of performances, however, the group was rather misnamed as there was very little Baroque in their repertoire, only Handel and, if you consider him a Baroque composer (which I don’t), Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. All the other composers they recorded were Classical (Mozart and Haydn) or even later, Romantic and early Modern composers (Beethoven, Gounod, Dvořak, Strauss, d’Indy, even Arnell and Kaye). According to the Brain discography cited above, the personnel changed from session to session but they always played well and with enthusiasm.

This disc opens with some unusual Handel pieces, the “Trio Overture” and two “Arias” for wind ensemble, and these are presented here for the first time on CD. The problem is that, between CDs 8 and 9, Warner again clutters up the set with too much Mozart: complete mono and stereo recordings of the Serenades 11 & 12. Granted, the mono performances are a bit zippier in tempo, but not by too wide a margin, and the stereo recordings have much better sound which allows you to hear Brain clearer. But this is what happens when you have a committee or a panel to decide what goes into a set and what doesn’t. They should have put me in charge; I’d have set them straight, ha ha ha! I ditched the mono versions of the two Serenades, including in their place the 1955 stereo recording of the J.S. Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 with the Boyd Neel Orchestra (on which Dennis switches to a single B-flat horn to get the right sound) and the fascinating Horn Concerto written in 1951 by German modernist Othmar Schoeck. It’s a marvelous piece, too seldom heard even today, and Brain plays it magnificently. And speaking of operatic arias with horn obbligato, Warner completely forgot about Eleanor Steber’s 1947 recording of Micaëla’s aria from Carmen, so I tossed that one in there, too. I did, however, like the Handel Overture and the Haydn Divertimento in C and the Notturno.

CD 9 contains some interesting and not-often-recorded works by C.P.E. Bach and Dittersdorf along with the stereo recordings of the Mozart Serenades 11 & 12. All of these performances are wonderfully lively, and as I mentioned above, the stereo sound allows you to hear Dennis’ contributions much better.

CD 10 features all-Romantic-era “Baroque” music, the Dvořák Serenade in D minor, Gounod’s rarely-heard Petite Symphonie for Winds and Strauss’ “Frohliche Werkstatt” Sonatina, which is actually a fairly lengthy piece that sounds like a symphony for wind ensemble. The last movement is by far the most creative; the rest of it sounds like so much of late Strauss, well-crafted music with nothing interesting to say. I would have substituted his one and only recorded performance of the Brahms Hoorn Trio with violinist Max Salpeter and pianist Cyril Preedy—but NOT the standard, muddy-sounding copy that has circulated for decades (I once owned it on the Everest LP, “The Art of French Horn”). A small label called Past Classics has done a miraculous job of cutting through the ambient hiss and distant microphone placement to bring the instruments into much clearer focus; this is the pressing to acquire. Since the Horn Trio was shorter than the Strauss Sonatina, I filled the remaining time with the last five minutes of Ljuba Welitsch’s recording of “Tatiana’s letter scene” from Eugene Onegin, on which Dennis plays magnificently.

The last CD opens with five Beethoven dances for winds and the previously unreleased Chanson et Danses by Vincent d’Indy . Both are excellent, but the Beethoven is especially bubbly and fun to hear. The Strauss Suite in Bb, an early work, is much more inventive than the Sonatina. After this we get two more pieces issued on CD for the first time, Richard Arnell’s excellent Serenade and Norman Kay’s cute but not very substantial Miniature Quartet for Winds.

So there you have my assessment of this excellent but imperfect tribute to Dennis Brain. In and of itself it’s certainly worth getting for the many superb and sometimes quite rare performances contained therein, but it could have been a nearly perfect set of his greatest and most interesting recordings, period, if they had ejected roughly two CDs’ worth of Mozart and included some of his more interesting recordings, including a couple from Decca. (I should point out that the sextet version of the Mozart Serenade No. 11by the London Wind Players conducted by Harry Blech IS a Decca recording, made on September 28, 1946, so they obviously had some conversation with Decca to include that.) But of course, even now that the once-independent record labels have all been swallowed up by greedy multi-corporate conglomerates, they still vie with each other for the small classical CD market that still exists (although, as I explained in my very first posting on this blog, I’m sticking with CDs because they always sound better than playing music through my computer or phone). For those who are interested, I’ve uploaded my text boxes of the CD track listings Dennis Brain CD tracks here in case you’d like to see my choices  Feel free to download and use them if you wish; you can print, cut them out, and tape or glue them to those white CD envelopes to make your own set. All of the recordings I’ve substituted are available online, the Beecham “Siegfried’s Rhine Journey” on the Internet Archive and all the others on YouTube.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *

Had Dennis lived, he might have disappointed us all. For at least a year he had been telling his friends and colleagues that he wanted to give up the horn and become a full-time organist. With his innate musical skills, I’m sure he would have been a very good organist, but he wouldn’t have been unique. Britain produced a good number of first-class organists, of whom the most famous was E. Power Biggs, but Dennis Brain was really unique on the French horn. He set a standard, inspired countless young horn players, and has remained a legend on that instrument. To have him switch from horn to organ would be like having James Galway, Clara Rockmore or Michala Petri suddenly switch to keyboard instruments. Yes, they’d be very fine musicians, but they wouldn’t be the Galway, Rockmore or Petri who are legends on their respective instruments. We should be grateful for what we have and treasure it always.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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2 thoughts on “A Collection for Brain-iacs

  1. John Miller says:

    How easily you dismiss “the greatest pianistic talent that this country has ever produced” according to Leon Fleischer. Just a casual search online reveals several well-known reviewers who would vehemently disagree with your ‘appraisal’ of William Kapell and his performances of Chopin. I think it is disgraceful that you toss him aside the way you do. Who are you to even mention his name? Here are some of the reviewers who disagree with you:

    Bryce Morrison

    Jed Distler

    James Leonard


    • Dear John: I don’t really care who disagrees with my assessments. My taste is my own, based on my studies of scores and nearly 60 years of listening experience. I make no apologies for my views; this blog expresses my opinions and no one else’s. And I’m well aware that no two people hear things alike, but I happen to heartily dislike Kapell’s Chopin almost as much as I detest Horowitz’ Chopin…yet there are many critics (I’m sure you’ll dig them up for me) who think that Horowitz’ Chopin was just wonderful. Thank you for your defense of Kapell’s Chopin, however,


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