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Brian: Symphony No. 3 / Lionel Friend, BBC Symphony Orchestra

Release Date: 10/12/1999 
Label:  Helios   Catalog #: 55029   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Havergal Brian
Performer:  Andrew BallJulian Jacobson
Conductor:  Lionel Friend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Good to see this powerful work rereleased on Hyperion's midprice label Helios. At least, I remembered it as powerful, and it certainly has its moments; but coming back to it again after a gap of x years when I hadn't listened to it, I am startled to realize how much boisterous good humor and openhearted melodiousness it has.

Brian composed his Third Symphony (actually the fourth he wrote, an earlier one being lost) in 1931-32; apparently he began it as a piano concerto, perhaps a concerto for two pianos, since they are prominent throughout the texture of the first movement especially (and they are silent in the scherzo, the last movement to be composed). Pace the old saws about the size and length of Brian's symphonies, No. 3
Read more clocks in well under the hour, and the scoring is hardly extravagant these days: Quadruple wind and brass (eight horns), with an array of percussion (including two timpanists)— 120 players in this recording. The layout, too, is relatively conventional: The standard sonata-form first movement (rarely standard for Brian, mind you), an extensive slow movement, scherzo, and finale. The textures are infused with Brian's beloved march rhythms, which do not prevent him calling regularly on surprising reserves of lyricism—indeed, of all 32 symphonies this one is by far the sweetest. It is also one of his most English, with that particularly pastoral quality rubbing shoulders with an Elgarian nobility that is at its most elevating in the magnificent coda to the finale. Lionel Friend has a relatively relaxed view of the score, which in general encourages such a response, though I feel some of the towering climaxes, in the slow movement in particular, could have been tighter, weightier—though no complaints about Friend's ebullient handling of the whooping scherzo. He obtains committed playing from his BBC players, though the heavy acoustics of the BBC studios in Maida Vale hardly allow Brian's kaleidoscopic orchestral textures to shine—there's an enormous amount of color in this work (Brian was a master of the orchestra, if an unorthodox one), but the flat aural perspective simply doesn't catch it, and turning up the volume doesn't help. Excellent notes by David Brown, who takes the listener step by step through the action with banded cues that allow you to keep an eye on where you are. So, though this may not be an ideal recording of Brian's Third Symphony, the work itself is a marvelous way of entering Brian's thrilling, idiosyncratic sound world; and since the recording of the complete Brian symphony canon under way on Marco Polo can be expected to concentrate on the unrecorded works in the meantime, you should not hang about before exploring this disc. A pity, though, that Hyperion didn't take advantage of the reissue to kit the booklet out with a brighter cover than the gloomy faun who was there when the disc first appeared in 1989. Strongly recommended.

-- Martin Anderson, FANFARE [1/2000]
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 3 in C sharp minor by Havergal Brian
Performer:  Andrew Ball (Piano), Julian Jacobson (Piano)
Conductor:  Lionel Friend
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1931-1932; England 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 The Havergal Brian Mystique on Full Display! July 5, 2012 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "This is a big, sprawling symphony by the always engigmatic Havergal Brian. The work features 2 solo pianos at various times through the course of the symphony, almost resembling a modified piano concerto. Let's be honest- Havergal Brian's music is an acquired taste, and this symphony may not be warmly received by everyone. On the other hand, for afficionados of British symphonic music, this recording should please. A solid performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, although the sound is not fully state of the art" Report Abuse
 Epic Brian April 16, 2012 By Donald J O'Connor (Kreamer, PA) See All My Reviews "Brian's 3rd, along with his 7th, is about the closest he ever came to writing a mainstream 4-movement symphony. It uses an orchestra of Mahlerian dimensions, often to make a huge noise. It's a battleship of a symphony, with about as much armor (brass). The first movement is dominated by march rhythms, but has some of his best lyric inspirations as well. The slow movement is English rhapsody writ large. The rollicking scherzo would be a great pops concert item and the finale also has one of his finest lyrical themes. Its epilogue is not a nostalgic Baxian reverie, but a page of thunderous, declamatory orchestration, abetted by the organ, as if to say "This is my art. Make of it what you will." When I hear magnificent music like this, I just can't fathom the nanobrains who still consider Brian an amateur." Report Abuse
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