Sunday, July 9, 2017

Havergal Brian - Symphony No. 3 (Lionel Friend)


Composer: Havergal Brian
  1. Symphony No. 3 in C sharp minor: I. Andante moderato e sempre sostenuto e marcato
  2. Symphony No. 3 in C sharp minor: II. Lento sempre marcato e rubato
  3. Symphony No. 3 in C sharp minor: III. Allegro vivace
  4. Symphony No. 3 in C sharp minor: IV. Lento solenne

Andrew Ball, piano
Julian Jacobson, piano
BBC Symphony Orchestra
Lionel Friend, conductor

Date: 1988
Label: Hyperion



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 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. [1/2000]

-- Martin Anderson, FANFARE

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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.


(portrait by Julie Kim)
Lionel Friend (born March 13, 1945 in London) is a British conductor. Friend was educated at the Royal College of Music in London, and studied privately with Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt and Colin Davis. He also assisted conductors such as Charles Mackerras, Reginald Goodall and Daniel Barenboim. Friend is a distinguished figure in both the opera house and on the concert platform. His current orchestral repertoire ranges from Haydn and Weber to Messiaen, Lutosławski and Britten. In January 2015 he was appointed Music Director to British Youth Opera.


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