The recording is Lyrita at its best...
Andrew McGregor 2007
Think of this as part of Dennis Brain’s legacy: the great British horn player, whose musicality, virtuosity and brilliant sound inspired so many composers to write pieces for him, from Benjamin Britten’s Serenade to three of the concertos recorded here.
Brain gave the first performance of Gordon Jacob’s Horn Concertos in 1951: almost a string serenade in dialogue with the solo horn…and Jacob concentrates on the upper reaches of the instrument, where Brain’s gleaming sound was so strong and flexible, the first movement ending with an exultant top C. The slow movement is gentle, wistful nocturne, before the explosive brilliance of the finale: rapid tonguing, then a broad horn melody over scampering strings. It’s a genuinely catchy concerto…and so’s the Second Horn Concerto by Jacob’s pupil, Sir Malcolm Arnold. Dennis Brain premiered it in July 1957, just over a month before his fatal car crash. Arnold concentrates on high-lying lyrical writing, allowing Brain to bathe his audience in golden tone…and it’s to David Pyatt’s immense credit that he’s able to follow in Brain’s footsteps, absolutely equal to the demands.
York Bowen was a horn player himself, and it sounds like it; his Horn Concerto is from 1955, and it opens with a compelling flourish and recitative, before broadening into lush romanticism, and the sighing string-writing of the slow movement. Ruth Gipps was another Gordon Jacob pupil, but her Concerto was written after Brain’s death for her son Lance Baker to perform, which he did at the Royal Academy of Music in London in 1969 with his mother conducting. It’s less overtly virtuosic than the others, yet in terms of range, it’s very demanding: Lance Baker’s bottom end must have offered more solid foundations than Brain’s, given the way Gipps exploits it. It’s another attractive tonal concerto, which saves its best for the finale: some inspired changes of texture and tempo, and a genuinely original duet for horn and celeste where time stands still – suddenly we’re in the world of Britten’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’.
The disc ends with a lollipop: Hunter’s Moon by Gilbert Vintner, hunting calls echoing over a nocturnal landscape, with the striking rasp of hand-stopped horn punctuating the gallop.
The Lyrita label has been reborn thanks to its new relationship with Nimbus, but this isn’t a reissued recording. It was made in the mid-90s, but it’s never been released until now. Apparently, this would have been the 19-year old David Pyatt’s debut recording. We know now what a superb horn player he is, but even then he seems to have been the complete artist, and Nicholas Braithwaite and the LPO only occasionally show signs that there’s been little rehearsal time for what must have been unfamiliar works. The recording is Lyrita at its best: warmly welcoming…and that’s exactly how we ought to react to the CD now that it’s finally made it into the shops.
This recording is Disc Of The Week on Radio 3's CD Review