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Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)
CD 1 [63:14]
The Tinkerís Wedding - Comedy Overture (1947-48) [7:18]
Symphony No. 31 (1967-68) [13:23]
Symphony No. 7 in C (1948) [42:16]
CD2* [52:28]
Symphony No. 8 in B flat minor (1949) [24:40]
Symphony No. 9 in A minor (1951) [27:34]
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (leader: Malcolm Stewart)
Conductors: Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir Charles Groves*
Recorded in the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, 3-4 May 1987 and No.1 Studio*, Abbey Road, London, 25-26 July 1977
CD1 digital recording; CD2 digitally remastered

Not too long ago it would have been unthinkable for a double CD set of Havergal Brianís music to be available. How times have changed as now EMI Classics, as part of their British Composers series, have provided a substantial cross section of Brianís orchestral output by providing four of his symphonies and an overture. I have in my collection both the vinyl LPs from which these works were first available. With the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra playing on both discs, the first CD is conducted by Sir Charles Groves, digitally recorded in 1987 and the second CD conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras, digitally re-mastered from analogue tapes made in 1978.

Having been attracted through mere curiosity to Brianís music by the fervent cries of Ďunjustly neglected composerí that were ringing in my ears, I found that his music left me rather cold when I first played the works on those vinyl records some fifteen years ago. When this set arrived for review I was fascinated to see if time had changed my opinion but unfortunately this was not to be the case. In fact, revisiting these recordings have only reinforced my negative view of Brianís music.

Naturally any composer who had the dogged persistence and unstilted creativity to be able to compose a total of thirty-two symphonies, twenty-two of which were written after the incredible age of eighty, is worthy of great interest. However Havergal Brian aficionados have undoubtedly found something in his music that I am unable to appreciate. The works presented here I find to be for the most part dark and sombre, dull and unsatisfying, devoid of any substantial lyrical invention. The four symphonies come across as profoundly agitated and restless, like blocks of disjointed orchestral sound, aimlessly wandering around without purpose and direction. Furthermore Brianís acknowledged tendency towards unsatisfactory conclusions I find wearing and frustrating and I often have difficulty in differentiating one movement or section from another.

I hold the view that when compared to more famous contemporaries such as Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Sibelius, Brianís music is frankly fourth division.

On a more positive note the knighted conductors Charles Groves and Charles Mackerras encourage equally fine performances from the RLPO combined with high quality sound. Those who are already converted to Havergal Brianís cause and those who wish to give his very individual music a try will welcome this double CD set from EMI Classics.

Michael Cookson

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