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Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)
Symphony No. 2 in E minor (1930-31) [53:28]
Festival Fanfare (1967) [1:44]
Moscow Symphony Orchestra/Tony Rowe. DDD
rec. Mosfilm Studio, Moscow, May 1996
NAXOS 8.570506 [55:12]



After welcoming Brian's Fourth Symphony recently (8.570308 - see review), it is a pleasure to report on a further reissue of the music of this important composer. Originally on Marco Polo 8.223790, this Second Symphony becomes a must-buy at the cheaper price tag.
 
We begin, though, with the 1967 Festival Fanfare, Brian’s one brass-only work. It is one of the last works we know of by the composer. Its argument is terse but confident. The performance here mirrors this confidence.
 
The earlier Second Symphony (1930/31) is scored for typically huge orchestra, including two pianos, three sets of timpani, organ and 16 horns - although strangely only eight are used in the present recording. Although in four movements, Naxos has allocated several track points to each movement, a real help when interacting with Malcom MacDonald's superb notes.
 
Inspired by Goethe, specifically the early drama, Götz von Berlichingen, each movement allegedly concerns a specific character trait of Götz: the first, resolution; the second, domestic piety; the third, battle; the fourth, death. Textures are often complex but never blurred.
 
Some of the playing leaves a little to be desired, but Brian's demands are harsh, after all. The mysterious foreboding of the symphony’s opening leads to some strained playing from the strings  but there is no denying that the atmosphere is there. There are contrasts in this first movement, but they have to be heard in context; thus the second subject, whilst suave and delicate, never really gives any true balm or hope. Brian’s inspiration takes flight in the Andante sostenuto e molto espressivo second movement, where there is a lovely use of solo violin, although the soloist seems rather recessed in the overall sound picture.
 
By far the briefest movement, the Scherzo only lasts around six minutes. The horns come into their own here, with antiphonal calls chasing each other over string poundings. MacDonald is absolutely correct to identify the Wagnerian elements in the finale: “Siegfried’s Funeral March” from Götterdämmerung. Brian plans the music so it moves towards a massive climax that is cruelly cut short, to be followed by some stunningly beautiful harmonies in the lower strings. The haunting end leaves one in a sort of stunned reverie.
 
I keep on asking myself is there no end to Brian's invention? We are privileged to be able to hear these scores at all, and it is good that the Moscow Orchestra gives its all for the Brianesque cause. We need much more of the same ...
 
Colin Clarke

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