William Havergal Brian was born in Staffordshire in 1876 and died in 1972.
Like Elgar, he had no professional musical training but, unlike Elgar, he
was subject to consequent criticism as being an 'amateur'. He left school
at 12 and in 1927 completed his massive Gothic Symphony. He composed
32 symphonies , the last 20 in the last twelve years of his life. He wrote
five operas, a cello concerto, songs and some piano music.
Many British composers simply could not write for the piano and such include
Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Walton. I am not convinced that Brian could either.
The Double Fugue, as the other fugal works, are academically and
technically competent but predominantly serious, slow and
uneventful. Some pages of the Double Fugue and the D major Fugue
contain unplayable stretches of the hand. No pianist or able composer would
have written like this. Without copying the example of a previous recording,
where two pianists were employed for these passages, Clarke plays the music
by arpeggiating the chords.
Of the piano music, apart from the attractive Dowland's Fancy the
music is very serious and unremitting; there is no sparkle or cheer, nothing
to raise any shouts of encouragement or spontaneous rapturous applause.
I found the Three Illuminations in the version for speaker and piano
awkward, patronising and an embarrassment producing a sort of sense of shame.
The songs were of no real consequence.
But this is an interesting and important disc. Clarke's playing is, as usual,
exemplary and the recording is clear and vibrant.