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Monday, July 10, 2017

Havergal Brian - Symphonies Nos. 6, 28, 29 & 31 (Alexander Walker)


Composer: Havergal Brian
  1. Symphony No. 6 'Sinfonia Tragica'
  2. Symphony No. 28 (Sinfonia in C minor): Moderato –
  3. Symphony No. 28 (Sinfonia in C minor): Grazioso e leggiero –
  4. Symphony No. 28 (Sinfonia in C minor): Andante espressivo –
  5. Symphony No. 28 (Sinfonia in C minor): Allegro vivo
  6. Symphony No. 29 in E flat major: Adagio – Allegro –
  7. Symphony No. 29 in E flat major: Lento cantabile sempre –
  8. Symphony No. 29 in E flat major: Allegretto grazioso –
  9. Symphony No. 29 in E flat major: Adagio – Allegro molto – Adagio
  10. Symphony No. 31 (in one movement)

New Russia State Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Walker, conductor

Date: 2015
Label: Naxos



Mirabile dictu: a release of four Havergal Brian symphonies – cause for celebration in itself – two of which have not been recorded before! What a diverse set they make, too, remarkably so given the later three date from 18 months during 1967-68.

Alexander Walker’s interpretations of Nos 6 and 31 stand up well against their older rivals (Mackerras’s No 31 for EMI is currently unavailable) and in the Sinfonia tragica (1947-48, reworked from material for an abandoned opera on Synge’s Deirdre of the Sorrows) he produces a marvellously nuanced, rather Russian-sounding performance, with some occasionally Shostakovichian brass. Comparisons with Fredman reveal a few infelicities of ensemble and two curious errors: the solo trumpeter is too loud and forwardly placed, so that his early fanfares lack the mystery they need, and only a single side-drummer seems to be used, instead of the three Brian required, so that the tramp of doom that gradually overtakes the music does not have the bite Brian wanted, and Fredman delivered.

Walker’s feel for line and melody pays dividends in the shaping of the big melody at the centre of No 6, throughout the whole of No 31 and at the beguilingly pastoral opening of No 28. This last was premiered, controversially, by the nonagenarian Stokowski the year after Brian’s death in 1972, in a performance that in places amounted to a complete misreading. In this second performance, No 28 emerges as wonderfully compelling, with its alternation of the violent and lyrical. The celebratory No 29, in four movements like its predecessor, and luminous No 31 are bright examples of Brian’s late polyphonic style. The New Russia State Symphony Orchestra do the music proud. The sound quality is very good, too, as it needs to be for Brian’s complex, multi-layered invention. Recommended.

-- Guy Rickards, Gramophone

More reviews:
MusicWeb International  RECORDING OF THE MONTH


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.


Alexander Walker (born 1973) is a British conductor. Walker was educated at the Royal Grammar School High Wycombe and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London. Walker is known for conducting amateur and youth orchestras. Walker teaches conducting at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance and is an aural teacher at the Royal Academy of Music where he also conductors the Junior Academy Sinfonia. In 2017, he was awarded the Elgar Medal, the highest honour awarded by the Elgar Society, for the work he has done to promote the composer's music.


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