BRIAN Symphonies: No. 6, “Sinfonia tragica”;1 No. 16.1 COOKE Symphony No. 32 • Myer Fredman, cond;1 Nicholas Braithwaite, cond;2 London PO • LYRITA 295 (60:26)
I have been waiting aRead more long time for these two symphonies by Havergal Brian to reappear; they are among his finest. Neither turned up in the marco polo/Naxos Brian series of the 1990s, which seems to have been terminated incomplete.
Both symphonies are single-movement works. Formally, they resemble symphonic poems, especially the Sixth, a 25-minute piece using music from the composer’s aborted operatic treatment of J. M. Synge’s Dierdre of the Sorrows. The opening is Sibelian, even Busonian, in that it evokes the nocturnal scurrying moments of Doktor Faust. This is quickly succeeded by a mournful cor anglais solo, building to a string-drenched episode that is unusually heart-on-sleeve for this composer. Regular Brian fingerprints soon emerge: the pulsing statements dominated by side drums and xylophone, and the unexpected ff cymbal crashes that can seem almost arbitrary. The harp features strongly in the texture throughout, possibly because of the Irish text that inspired the work.
In Symphony No. 16, composed in 1960, we get a taste of the composer’s pastoral side. The atmosphere might be described as troubled Delius, the mood established right at the start by lonely woodwind figures over brooding harmonies in the bass sections of the orchestra. Brian’s symphonies moved from the sprawling forms and large forces of the early works to become more concise and finally quite terse. The 16th literally sits at the halfway point in that process. As the musical argument gets underway (in typically episodic fashion), there is a tangible sense of forward movement. Despite his habitual sudden shifts of mood, Brian creates a dramatic cohesion to unify the work—a “building block” approach of contrast and relief, also employed by Michael Tippett in his contemporary symphonies and sonatas. Brian’s orchestration is once again notable for its overlay of glittering percussion, perfectly caught in this recording.
In fact, this could well be the best recording ever made of Brian’s music (notwithstanding the importance of the marco polo “Gothic” Symphony). The London PO is a first-rate orchestra, taped during one of their eras of excellence; the under-celebrated Fredman shows complete mastery and understanding of the scores, and the Lyrita sound quality remains superbly clear and present.
After these two bracingly individual masterpieces, the Third Symphony of Arnold Cooke (1906–2005) sounds conventional in comparison. The two composers had little in common (apart from their obscurity and longevity). Cooke was a dyed-in-the-wool Hindemithian, and his music shares the contrapuntal clarity and precise balance of his great German teacher. Added to that is an attractive patina of melancholy in the slow movement, which builds impressively to its uneasy climax. On its own terms, Cooke’s Third is a strong, satisfying contribution to the 20th-century symphonic canon. The performance is confident, and the recording well balanced.
A local retailer pointed out to me that these welcome reissues of the old Lyrita catalog harbor a technical quirk: if you look closely at the underside of the discs, you will see they have been individually burned rather than pressed. Possibly, this is to allow them to continue to be available on special order once the original batch has been sold—a situation not far off, I suspect, due to the considerable interest of the repertoire and consistently high standard of performance. Certainly, there is no compromise in terms of sound. Urgently recommended.
Symphony No 16by Havergal Brian Conductor:
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1960; England Length: 17 Minutes 40 Secs.
Symphony no 6 "Sinfonia Tragica"by Havergal Brian Conductor:
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1948; United Kingdom Length: 19 Minutes 43 Secs.
Symphony no 3 in D majorby Arnold Cooke Conductor:
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century Written: 1967; United Kingdom Length: 22 Minutes 17 Secs.
Featured Sound Samples
Symphony no 6 "Sinfonia tragica" (Brian)
Symphony no 16 (Brian)
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Interesting Symphonic Works From 2 Unfamiliar EngOctober 20, 2012By Henry S. (Springfield, VA)See All My Reviews"Havergal Brian has acquired the reputation of being something of an 'enfant terrible' in 20th century music. This is perhaps based more than anything else on his unpredictability, especially with regard to compositional structure and format. This disk presents 2 of Brian's 30+ symphonies, the 6th and 16th. In contrast to his massive earlier works, such as the Gothic and Siegeslied Symphonies, these two are compact, single movement works, with serious and often tragic overtones. Both strike the listener as sharing common structural ingredients- alternating passages of heavy brass and percussion with delicate interludes of light strings and winds. Both the 6th and 16th Symphonies (1948 and 1960, respectively) are impeccably played by the magnificent London Philharmonic Orchestra in this 1975 recording re-mastered by Lyrita. As for Arnold Cooke, both the composer and his 3rd Symphony were completely unknown to this reviewer. The work consists of 3 movements and generally has a brassy,up-beat flavor, although there are significant passages of introspection and melancholy. Again, the LPO's playing is outstanding. In my overall opinion, the program on this disk does not quite rank at the highest levels of English classical music, which sets extremely high standards. Nevertheless, the near total unfamiliarity of these symphonies can recommend the disk to anyone looking for new discoveries. Who knows- it must might inspire some to look further into the works of these two composers."Report Abuse