English horn-player Dennis Brain, whose centenary falls this year, was a transformational musician who died at the peak of his power in a car crash driving home to London from the Edinburgh Festival in 1957. He had begun his recording career in 1937 at the age of 16, joining his horn-playing father Aubrey and the celebrated Léner Quartet in a Mozart divertimento. And in 1943 Benjamin Britten wrote his landmark Serenade for tenor, horn and strings for him.
This tribute album from Ben Goldscheider, who is not much older now than Brain was in 1943, commemorates the great player's work through music written for him and in his memory. Malcolm Arnold's Fantasy strikes the lightest note, and Britten's Canticle III, setting war-time words by Edith Sitwell – achingly sung by tenor James Gilchrist – the deepest. Poulenc's Élégie was written shortly after Brain's death, Peter Maxwell Davies's Fanfare Salute to Dennis Brain 50 years later.
The last two works, Huw Watkins’s Lament and Roxanna Panufnik’s Sonnets without Words, were written specially for this album. The mood is sombre, doleful, even angry, the music-making a concentrated and probing reminder of the musician Britten described as “that most wonderful of horn players”.