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Brian: Violin Concerto, Etc / Friend, Bisengaliev, Et Al

Release Date: 05/17/2005 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557775   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Havergal Brian
Performer:  Marat Bisengaliev
Conductor:  Lionel Friend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

We?ve three by Brian, here, and none that I can find elsewhere on recordings at this time. The Jolly Miller overture (1962) was a gift to Brian?s daughter and her family. It?s the only known instance of the composer deliberately quoting a folk tune, though I can?t help feeling that is because it provides such an effective contrast with the introductory material (much as Nielsen did in the finale of his Wind Quintet). The Jolly Miller is anything but jovial: traditionally, millers in England were known for their grumpy, argumentative, and even violent Read more temperament, as Howard Pyle?s delightful retelling of Robin Hood meeting Midge the Miller?s son attests. The tune for Brian?s miller is dour but bumptious; and the free variations that follow are a microcosm of the composer?s impressive art, undimmed at the age of 86.

Malcolm MacDonald points out in his detailed and useful liner notes to the Violin Concerto of 1934?35 that Brian didn?t refrain from applying his heavily symphonic instrumentation to the work. The composer created a ?heroic? part for the violin (in fact, the concerto was originally subtitled ?The Heroic?) that vies in focused energy, emotional content, and size of gesture with the orchestra. He also varied the weight of his instrumentation to avoid major competition between soloist and orchestra. This was actual standard operating procedure for Brian, whose musical vocabulary relied upon elements of strong contrast and his ability to work them into a coherent form. Stylistically, the results are no closer to the mainstream than the composer?s Fourth Symphony, but the concerto certainly doesn?t deserve its current neglect. Especially worth hearing is the chameleon-like Lento movement, a passacaglia that employs overlapping canonic statements, time signature changes, and tonal instability to conceal the edges of its 15 brilliant variations.

The Symphony No. 18 appeared in 1961. Bryan Fairfax was to conduct the premiere of the composer?s mammoth Gothic Symphony (which had actually been composed roughly 40 years earlier), and he asked Brian whether any of his other symphonies might be suitable in ability and size of forces for a mostly amateur orchestra. Instead of offering an offhanded insult?something the composer was quite good at?he quietly set about writing such a symphony. The result, dedicated to Fairfax, was first performed by the amateur Polyphonia Orchestra under Fairfax?s direction. It is typical of late Brian in its terseness that implies no loss of complexity or character: a pair of march movements, the first a pompously Blimpian one with overtones of menace, surround a central Adagio that works up ghostly thematic fragments into an oppressive force of considerable intensity.

This new recording is one of the best I?ve heard of Brian?s music in recent years, thanks in large part to superior playing from the BBC Scottish SO and the idiomatic work of conductor Lionel Friend. He makes eloquent sense of the composer?s frequently dense textures, and does a creditable job limning the structural intricacies of the Violin Concerto. There were moments in the final allegro to the symphony when I could have wished for more snap, but overall, these are performances to treasure. Violinist Marat Bisengaliev (a student of Boris Belinsky and Valery Klimov, no less) is as committed as the other musicians on this release, and quite up to both the technical and temperamental demands of his part.

I don?t know if this album represents a shift in the parent company?s unfolding Brian series from Marco Polo to Naxos, but the last pair of releases featuring the composer?s works have been on the budget label. Regardless, what was once attractive and interesting at full price becomes only more so now that it enters the realm of the budget-conscious. My only caveat to this album is its short timing, but at the price and with excellent sound, that shouldn?t be a sufficient drawback to detract from this kind of value.

FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

The Jolly Miller by Havergal Brian
Conductor:  Lionel Friend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1962; England 
Date of Recording: 01/1993 
Venue:  BBC Broadcasting House, Scotland 
Length: 4 Minutes 38 Secs. 
Concerto for Violin no 2 in C major by Havergal Brian
Performer:  Marat Bisengaliev (Violin)
Conductor:  Lionel Friend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: England 
Date of Recording: 01/1993 
Venue:  BBC Broadcasting House, Scotland 
Length: 35 Minutes 31 Secs. 
Notes: Composition written: England (1934 - 1935). 
Symphony no 18 by Havergal Brian
Conductor:  Lionel Friend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1961; England 
Date of Recording: 01/1993 
Venue:  BBC Broadcasting House, Scotland 
Length: 14 Minutes 17 Secs. 

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