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Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)
Symphony No. 10 in C minor (1954) [16:10]
English Suite No. 3 (1919-21) [17:38]
Concerto for Orchestra (1964) [15:42]
Symphony No. 30 in B flat minor (1967) [14:54]
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
David Bednall (organ)
rec. RSNO Centre. Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, 15-16 Sept 2010. DDD
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7267 [64:49]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)
Dr Merryheart - Comedy Overture [18:33]
Symphony No. 9 in A minor (1951) [27:54]
Symphony No. 11 (1954) [29:54]
London Symphony Orchestra/Harry Newstone (11, overture); Norman Del Mar (9)
rec. 5 Feb 1959, 5 Nov 1959. mono radio broadcasts. ADD
DUTTON CDBP 9798 [76:21]
Experience Classicsonline

Here are two contrasting Dutton CDs of the orchestral music of Havergal Brian.

One resurrects the 1950s mono experience of discovering three orchestral works on the radio. The other groups four short and succinct orchestral works in spanking new studio recordings by a conductor who earlier this year introduced The Gothic Symphony to the Proms (review) on 17 July 2011. Of these four works only No. 10 has been recorded before and that by a highly accomplished schools orchestra conducted by James Loughran. That was a studio effort made in 1972 (Unicorn: LP RHS313; CD: UKCD2027) at the dawn of the Brian revival when it seemed that only schools orchestras were open to playing his music.

Taking the archive collection first. These very rare mono tapes owe their existence to the doggedness and tenacity of the composer and super-administrator Robert Simpson who championed Brian at some personal cost - among others - at the BBC.

The comedy overture Doctor Merryheart reflects a character constantly wreathed in smiles. There are no belly laughs here just a fantastical bonhommie with none of the sinister retribution of Eulenspiegel. The dedicatee is Brian's friend, Granville Bantock. As a set of variations it perhaps looks across to the Bantock of the Helena Variations (Link) and his other friend and one-time 'neighbour' in Brighton, Holbrooke who wrote orchestral variations on The Girl I left Behind Me and Three Blind Mice as well as to Brian’s own much earlier Burlesque Variations a work central to Martin Anderson's Toccata CD of volume 1 of the Brian orchestral works. The music for Dr Merryheart is grotesque, opulently grand in a supercharged Cockaigne way, poetic and very original. It has little of the enigmatic, oblique and shattering cussedness of the mature orchestral works. I mentioned Cockaigne but it also has a few other nobilmente episodes and some sense of a preening magnificent Beau Brummel - a Bourgeois Gentilhomme swagger.

The overture is conducted by Harry Newstone who also conducts the Eleventh Symphony. Two world wars separate the overture from the 1954 Symphony No. 11. It is in three movements and starts with an Adagio that moves between subtle warm diatonics and a chilly nimbus. The long central Allegro is cheery with tambourine, horn chortlings and effervescent high spirits. The enthused playing of the Ninth Symphony suggests a studio session which was an event rather than a duty. Things really catch fire. The results are imposing, tragic and imperious. The closing pages suggest admiration on Brian's part for Respighi. This is the work's third outing on CD – one is on Naxos; the other one is on EMI Classics.

The notes are by Lewis Foreman who has the advocate's gift of eminence and a ready communicative style.

The Brabbins disc starts with the Tenth Symphony - a strong work - not as accessible as the Sinfonia Tragica (No. 6) on Lyrita but certainly rapidly capturing the attention. It is full of resinous gestures, cells and motifs. Like its diminutive brother the 22nd symphony this is a good place with which to start a Brian odyssey. All the more so given the glintingly fresh recording.

The earliest work here is the English Suite no. 3 of which there are five (see the Toccata CD which includes the Fifth). The language here is less congested with a profusion of ideas. It shows Brian's closest approach to the idyllic English pastoral evident in the violin melody close to the start of the Third Symphony and in The Gothic - first movement in each case. This suite is by no means typical Brian but it is an easy route into Brian.

The Concerto for Orchestra comes like a icy-cold shower after the Suite. The language used is typically uncompromising. It is not dissonant just densely populated with ideas and often uproarious and driven on across hairline cracks and fault lines.

The Thirtieth Symphony (of 32) might well, Malcolm Macdonald surmises, incorporate material amassed for Brian's opera project on Oedipus at Colonnus. The tripping and piping woodwind writing at the start of the second movement suggests some mysterious but not unjoyous night march – a mise-en-scène not unknown to Brian.

These are brilliant performances and recordings and in this combination offer easy-Brian and craggy enigmatic Brian.

Both discs were prepared with financial assistance from the Havergal Brian Society.

In all the festivities we should not forget that Dutton have also recorded Brian's Cello Concerto of 1964. It's on CDLX7263 with two other cello and orchestra works: Bush's Concert Suite and Bowen's Rhapsody.

Rob Barnett

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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