Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)
The Complete Songbook - Vol.1
Three Songs for Contralto or Baritone Op. 6 (Sorrow song [3.57] The message [2.01] Farewell [5.29])
Little Sleeper Op. 13a [5.29]
John Dowland’s Fancy [2.48]
Three Contemporary Songs (A faery song Op. 13c [2.06] The soul of steel [4.30] Since love is dead [2.34])
Legend for violin and piano [6.52]
Three Elizabethan songs (When icicles hang by the wall [2.11] Care-charmer sleep [4/21] Take, O, take those lips away [1.05])
Three Unison Songs: he mountain and the squirrel [1.24] The lost doll [1.24] What does little birdie say [1.25])
Three Illuminations (The boys and the pastille [1.46] The butterfly's waltz [1.24] Venus and a bobby [2.57])
Soliloquy Upon a Dead Child Op.l3a [5.29]
Three Songs for tenor Op.l3b (Day and night [5.02] When I lie ill [3.08] If I could speak [2.38])
Mark Stone (baritone): Jonathan Stone (violin): Sholto Kynoch (piano)
rec. 25-26 August 2011, Potton Hall, Suffolk. DDD
STONE RECORDS 5060192780154 [68:40]
Havergal Brian’s songs haven’t had the attention on disc that they deserve. Concentration has largely focused, for obvious reasons, on his significant symphonic canvass of works led by the you-know-what symphony. Unlike The Gothic the songs are on a wholly reduced scale, nakedly employing voice and piano. They reveal another Brian, sometimes not a very predictable or even recognisable Brian.
This recital by Mark Stone and pianist Sholto Kynoch makes a good case for this body of work to be taken seriously. They make a most effective team, enjoying the melancholy moments as much as those clearly predicated on a fully orchestral view of the keyboard writing. Since the pieces span a quarter of a century of Brian’s compositional life we can trace his development with a degree of clarity. There is the early tristesse of Sorrow song or the eager intensity of The message with its fizzing textual scorn and hints of Elgar.
In response to a previous, unsympathetic review of this disc, a contributor to this site’s message board suggested that listeners acquaint themselves with the old recording of some Brian songs made by Brian Rayner Cook and pianist Roger Vignoles [Toccata TOCC0005]. I don’t have the CD transfer but I do have the LP from which it derives, recorded for Auracle (AUC1003). As suggested, I did listen. What I hear is a contrast of interpretations, as one might have predicted, where the same songs are covered. To take these early songs first: in Sorrow song Stone is neither as full toned nor quite a passionate as Rayner Cook. But he is a touch more conversational. In The message Rayner Cook and Vignoles take a somewhat more relaxed tempo with more explicit rubato. Arguably, they find more scorn, though there’s less headlong rush. Both catch the intensity and anguish of The soul of steel very well and I wouldn’t care to adjudicate between them. In Since love is dead Stone is quicker, more direct, whilst Rayner Cook is more thoughtfully paced; once again both convince on their own terms. So it goes. But I would say that I prefer Rayner Cook’s rhythmic zest and uplift in When icicles hang by the wall: Stone strikes me as a touch bluff here. There’s also a touch less rigidity and more affection in the older pairing’s phrasing in Take, O, take those lips away. Here I’d certainly prefer Rayner Cook and Vignoles.
Little Sleeper Op. 13a is a hypnotic little prayer, John Dowland’s Fancy a solo piano piece full of Brianesque drollery. The Three Unison Songs show us Brian’s lighter side - and he did have a lighter side - whilst When I lie ill gives us a solid march tempo.
We also have the bonus of the Legend, for violin and piano played by Jonathan Stone and Kynoch.
The booklet has been beautifully laid out and designed. Good to have full texts on such attractive paper too and in such a well judged font though it is a little undersized. Upping the point size would bring better clarity, especially as the poetry is set in italics.
Finally, what should you do if you have the Toccata and are puzzled by this new disc? Should you get it for the songs that are new to disc? If you are sympathetic to Brian, then I’d say yes, most certainly. I happen to prefer the Rayner Cook/Vignoles interpretations on the whole, for tonal, technical and interpretative reasons, but I don’t always prefer them, and not really by so very much. I think this exploratory first disc in the Brian series is well worth a listen.
This exploratory first disc in the Brian series is well worth a listen.
see also review by Em Marshall-Luck