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At the other end of the telescope comes the 12th Symphony of 1957, a single movement just over eleven minutes long on this recording. Concision might be expected, and in a way it is there, but so too is a profusion of ideas, I expect most would say too many for such a short time span, and Brian's love of sudden juxtaposition of contrasting sections can become wearisome under these conditions. A critic once wrote of Bax 'it all came too easily to him', and one is put in mind of Bax here, although Brian is much harder-edged and less luxurious.

There are many genuinely original touches in this work, the cor anglais solo (track 16, 1:18) or better still the horn quartet [listen -- track 17, 1:37-2:47]. But one wants more of them, and less of the continuous reversion to busy counterpoint. Written on the Agamemnon of Aeschylus, and later suggested by Brian as a Prelude to the one-act opera he wrote on the subject, it is probably best listened to as a dramatic commentary or kind of tone-poem rather than a symphony.

On the evidence of the 4th particularly, it would be easy for the unsympathetic listener to write Brian off as 'a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing', but then one could do that with a large number of (currently) lauded present-day composers. Personally I think the clue to Brian lies in two places: firstly that he wrote his own highly individual take on an aesthetic that had had its day even as he wrote; secondly that he had an orchestrational and contrapuntal technique that far outstripped his ability to construct truly memorable ideas and work them through -- and thus he over-relied on it.

Mahler is lauded to this day, even the monstrous banality of Bruckner gets frequent hearings, yet Brian lies neglected. 'Unfair!' will cry his supporters, his detractors may well quote Beecham: 'The English don't like music, but they love the noise it makes'. This disc will see you well into one camp or the other before nightfall.

Copyright © 20 May 2007 Paul Sarcich, London UK


Brian: Symphonies Nos 4 and 12

8.570308 DDD Stereo REISSUE 60'57" 1992 and 2007 Naxos Rights International Ltd

Jana Valásková, soprano; Slovak Philharmonic Choir; Slovak National Opera Chorus; Echo Youth Choir; Cantus Mixed Choir; Czech Philharmonic Choir, Brno; Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Adrian Leaper, conductor

Havergal Brian (1876-1972): Symphony No 4 'Das Siegeslied' (Psalm of Victory) (1932-33) (Maestoso; Lento; Allegro (bewegt)); Symphony No 12 (1957) (Introduction; Allegro maestoso; A Tempo Marcia Lento; Adagio espressivo; Allegro vivo)



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