Monday, July 10, 2017

Havergal Brian - Symphonies Nos. 17 & 32 (Adrian Leaper)


Composer: Havergal Brian
  1. Tone Poem: In Memoriam: 1. Introduction - First Scene
  2. Tone Poem: In Memoriam: 2. Second Scene
  3. Tone Poem: In Memoriam: 3. Thrid Scene
  4. Festal Dance: Allegro vivo
  5. Festal Dance: Misterioso
  6. Symphony No. 17: Adagio - Allegro moderato -
  7. Symphony No. 17: Lento -
  8. Symphony No. 17: Allegro con brio
  9. Symphony No. 32: I. Allegretto
  10. Symphony No. 32: II. Adagio
  11. Symphony No. 32: III. Allegro ma non troppo
  12. Symphony No. 32: IV. Allegro moderato

RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
Adrian Leaper, conductor

Date: 1992
Label: Naxos (original on Marco Polo)



I did not pick this CD to review on my own. Despite a fondness for English music in general, and for 19th- and 20th-century English music in particular, I had limited interest in Havergal Brian’s orchestral output. I lumped it with that of Granville Bantock, which I generally find overwrought and undisciplined. This CD turned out to be a bit of a surprise. Though Brian’s work does exhibit some of the same freedom of form and emotional liability of his friend Bantock’s more purple scores, it avoids most of their excesses. In fact, in these later symphonies, there is a reserve that one would not predict from the extravagance of Brian’s “Gothic” Symphony and other earlier symphonic scores. I still cannot excuse as breezily as do some advocates the occasional turgidity that arises, nor can I believe that every disjoint transition and illogical key change is part of some design not immediately apparent to us mere mortals. Still, while relatively few would argue that these works are orchestral masterpieces, there is much more to admire in this eccentric and generally unknown composer’s music than I had remembered.

The two symphonies here are both products of the remarkably productive period that began when composer/producer Robert Simpson took up Brian’s cause at the BBC in the early 1950s. The Symphony No. 17 was completed in 1961, just before the composer’s 85th birthday. The Symphony No. 32 was Brian’s last work, written in 1968, four years before his death. Both demonstrate the classical concision that was the hallmark of his later work, and a modernist tonality that recalls Hindemith. They are full of ideas, not all of them particularly memorable (or allowed to stay around long enough to become so), but most are effective in their context, and a few are quite striking. There is little apparent structure or organic development; rather the composer assembles a collage of themes that, in its contrast and even illogic, creates the emotional statement. This is particularly effective in the slow movements, in which he can generate a great deal of intensity with slow marches, flashes of brass, sudden wind solos of a few notes, and martial percussion thrown together seemingly at random. Faster movements tend toward the mercurial and whimsical, with punctuations of brass creating the same random effects. The 17th is particularly notable for the lovely violin solos that begin and end the first section, and for the bizarrely disproportionate brevity of its brassy finale. Two pensive movements culminating in a funeral march of considerable power suggest that Brian may have intended the 32nd Symphony to be his last, but the energy of the final movements—remarkably affirmative for a man of 92—argues otherwise.

The other works come from the period before the First World War when Brian was enjoying the attention of the likes of Henry Wood and Thomas Beecham, and an income from a wealthy businessman that should have left him free to compose full time. These two contrasting works, more conventionally constructed than the symphonies, exhibit styles common to early Brian: the darkly expressive and the exuberantly satiric. In Memoriam, a tone poem of the former style, was initially programmatic, tracing a funeral march, service, and apotheosis for an unidentified artist. (Program and dedication were later withdrawn.) The lyric moments remind one of the English pastoralists, and the more solemn sections, the Edwardian nobility of Elgar. Festal Dance, the finale of an abandoned programmatic symphony, is of the latter style. Originally titled Dance of the Farmer’s Wife, its rustic energy is capped by a wild fugal development and Straussian horns. Both works show Brian’s skill in employing orchestral color and standard forms, as well as his ability to build impressive, often brassy climaxes.

This is not a new issue, but is a rerelease of a well-engineered 1992 recording previously available on the Marco Polo label. The Dublin-based orchestra plays brilliantly. Adrian Leaper wisely avoids heaviness, opting for relatively fast tempos and lighter textures. He does not exhibit either the personality or insight of my just-discovered ideal Brian conductor—Stokowski, who in the premiere performance of the Symphony No. 28, available on YouTube, seems to instinctively know how to make those discontinuities work—but he gives strong performances of the symphonies and better than that of the earlier works.

-- Ronald E. Grames, FANFARE

More reviews:


Havergal Brian (29 January 1876 – 28 November 1972) was a British classical composer. Brian was extremely prolific, his body of work including thirty two symphonies, many of them extremely long and ambitious works for massive orchestral forces. Brian enjoyed a period of significant popularity earlier in his career and rediscovery in the 1950s, though his music fell out of favour and since the 1970s he is vary rarely studied and performed. Today, he is often remembered for his First Symphony which calls for the largest orchestral force demanded by any conventionally structured concert work.


Adrian Leaper (born 1953) is an English conductor. Leaper studied horn and conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and for eight year was co-principal horn of the Philharmonia Orchestra. He was Principal Conductor of the Orquesta Filarmónica de Gran Canaria (1994-2001) the RTVE Symphony Orchestra in Madrid (2001-2010). He has made many recordings for the Naxos Records label. He has conducted for all four major London orchestras, the Moscow, Vienna and Prague Symphony Orchestras, in addition to many other radio, philharmonic, and symphony orchestras around the world.


FLAC, tracks
Links in comment

1 comment :

  1. Copy Adfly ( or LinkShrink ( to your browser's address bar, wait 5 seconds, then click on 'Skip [This] Ad' (or 'Continue') (yellow button, top right).
    If Adfly or LinkShrink ask you to download anything, IGNORE them, only download from file hosting site (
    If you encounter 'Bandwidth Limit Exceeded' problem, try to create a free account on MEGA.