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Brian: Symphonies No 22, 23 And 24, English Suite / Walker, New Russian Symphony

Brian / New Russia State Sym Orch / Walker
Release Date: 05/28/2013 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572833   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Havergal Brian
Conductor:  Alexander Walker
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Russia State Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Havergal Brian may be a “cult composer”, but he’s surely one of the better ones. His music, even from its early days, was always strange, imaginative, and distinctive, and this disc, containing some very early and very late works, makes the point tellingly. Symphonies Nos. 22-24 form a trilogy. They were all composed between 11:30am and 9pm on May 26th, 1965, when the composer was 137 years old. Okay, just kidding, but 1965 is correct, and Brian was an impressive 89 at the time, which is astonishing enough. Symphony No. 22, “Symphonia brevis”, contains just two movements and lasts nine minutes. March rhythms predominate, alongside the gnarly, virtually atonal counterpoint that characterizes much of Brian’s late work. It sounds unappealing, Read more but the music is so big in gesture and broad in its contrasts that it really does capture and hold your attention. Symphony No. 23, again in two movements but this time lasting all of 14 minutes, is more colorful and also a touch less angular, with some very beautiful moments of lyric calm. No. 24 consists of single, 16-minute movement, in which much of the storm and stress of the previously two works is resolved in lighter, brighter textures and more obviously diatonic thematic material. All three symphonies share an emphasis on march rhythms, and those characteristic brass and percussion effects (giant crescendos, deep tuba lines, three snare drums, unisons for xylophone and glockenspiel, cymbal crashes that hang over the bar lines) typical of Brian, and no one else. The advantage to having them all together, though, lies in the fact that you really can hear that Brian’s language has a wide range of expression, here displayed over a comparatively small space.

The English Suite No. 1 dates from 1905-6; that’s right, sixty years earlier than the three symphonies. Rich in invention, and much more obviously melodic, its six movements start with a march, and continue with a waltz, and character piece called “Under the Beech Tree”, an Interlude, Hymn, and finally a concluding Carnival, which pokes good-natured fun at God Save the King/Queen and other popular tunes. The Interlude is rather amazing, an experiment piece whose outer sections consist of pure texture (sound clip). It reveals Brian’s individuality even at this relatively early stage in his career—although he was already pushing 30 when the Suite was composed.

The performances here are very good. The New Russian State Symphony Orchestra sounds remarkably confident in Brian’s idiosyncratic sound world. The brass play very well, and the ensemble projects what have to be some very ungrateful string parts with astonishing conviction. Much of the credit must belong to conductor Alexander Walker, who keeps the music moving smartly along, and relishes the opportunities it offers for lyrical expression as well as instrumental color. Certainly this is one of the best issues in Naxos’ ongoing Brian cycle, especially as the sonics are also very tactile and vivid. Fans of the composer will rejoice.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 22 "Symphonia brevis" by Havergal Brian
Conductor:  Alexander Walker
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Russia State Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1964-1965 
Symphony no 23 by Havergal Brian
Conductor:  Alexander Walker
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Russia State Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965 
Symphony no 24 in D major by Havergal Brian
Conductor:  Alexander Walker
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Russia State Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1965 
English Suite no 1, Op. 12 by Havergal Brian
Conductor:  Alexander Walker
Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Russia State Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: ?1899-1904; England 

Sound Samples

Symphony No. 22, "Symphonia brevis": I. Maestoso e ritmico
Symphony No. 22, "Symphonia brevis": II. Tempo di Marcia e Ritmico
Symphony No. 23: I. Moderato
Symphony No. 23: II. Adagio non troppo ma pesante
Symphony No. 24 in D major
English Suite No. 1, Op. 12: I. Characteristic March
English Suite No. 1, Op. 12: II. Valse
English Suite No. 1, Op. 12: III. Under the Bench Tree
English Suite No. 1, Op. 12: IV. Interlude
English Suite No. 1, Op. 12: V. Hymn
English Suite No. 1, Op. 12: VI. Carnival

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Nicely Done- Worth A Listen June 21, 2014 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "Havergal Brian's Symphonies # 22, 23, and 24 all date from 1964-1965, when the composer was approaching his 90th birthday. In contrast, English Suite # 1 was written 60 years earlier (1905-1906). The very informative CD notes suggest that the 3 symphonies may be thought of as a unit, and this seems appropriate, given that the total length of all 3 together is only around 40 minutes. I also recommend that the CD notes be used as a solid interpretive guide to the unique and often confusing sound world which Havergal Brian always seems to generate. I found all 3 symphonies to be rather loosely constructed, with a strong emphasis on relentless brass and percussion-heavy passages, ultimately giving way to the subdued, introspective nature of Brian's string and wind writing. The final segment of the one-movement Symphony # 24 embodies this perfectly, with an extended and poignant Adagio bringing clarity to an earlier boisterous, extroverted opening. Due to their often sprawling nature (even in these short works), I have generally found it a challenge to find the fundamental coherence in many of Brian's symphonies. This does not mean that his symphonic output lacks merit- it certainly has plenty of that; however, I think it is correct to observe that one is never quite sure of what to expect when tackling Havergal Brian's imaginative and occasionally off-the-wall compositional pen. Such is the case with these 3 symphonies, I think. Now... on the other hand.... for a real contrast, try the English Suite # 1. This very attractive 25 minute, 6 section work is full of good cheer and allusions to English country life. Easily the most accessible of all the works contained on this Naxos CD, the suite emphasizes the very characteristics which the listener may struggle to identify in the symphonies- lyricism, consistent melody, and excellent orchestral balance. Technically, this disk is nothing short of outstanding. The New Russia State Symphony Orchestra plays superbly under the baton of conductor Alexander Walker, and Naxos' sonic qualities are absolutely state-of-the-art. In summary, despite my on-going reservations about the nature of Havergal Brian's overall symphonic output, the program on this disk is well worth investigating." Report Abuse
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