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Havergal BRIAN (1876-1972)
Symphony No. 6 Sinfonia Tragica (1948) [19:43]
Symphony No. 16 (1960) [17:41]
Arnold COOKE (1906-2005)

Symphony No. 3 in D (1967) [22:59]
London PO/Myer Fredman (Brian); Nicholas Braithwaite (Cooke)
rec. Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, 10 April 1973 (Brian); 7 January 1974 (Cooke). ADD
originally issued on LP as SRCS67 (Brian); SRCS78 (Cooke)

Sound Sample Brian Symphony 6

Experience Classicsonline

Let’s neither struggle to find connections between Cooke and Brian nor protest because there are none. Themes unified in a CD have their satisfactions but they are peripheral. There are pleasures in dramatic diversity and let’s leave it there.

Brian with his 32 symphonies has made awkward progress in the record catalogues. Early LP recordings in the period 1970-73 deployed youth orchestras on Unicorn and CBS to present symphonies 10, 21 and 22. The latter, entitled Symphonia Brevis, is fine work and the performance was good too. I played the ten minute track repeatedly until the work – grand, ungainly and with epic symphonic gravitas - fell into focus. It deserves to be reissued. EMI Classics recorded symphonies 7-9 and 31 before the CD era and these recordings are all now available at mid-price on CD. Let’s not forget the Third Symphony now on Hyperion Helios - CDH55029 (originally issued on CDA66334).

Naxos recorded a goodly number of the Brian symphonies in the 1980s and 1990s but show no sign of completing the canon. Some of those Marco Polo recordings await a new life on Naxos where most of the others can be found. Even so there are plenty of unrecorded Brian symphonies. Most grievously missed is the Fifth Symphony for baritone and orchestra, Wine of Summer setting words by Lord Alfred Douglas. It’s a superb work, densely lyrical, sultry and splendidly intense. It’s like an amalgam of Szymanowski’s Harnasie, Bax’s Spring Fire and Strauss’s Four Last Songs.

With this disc Lyrita have made available two of the most fascinating of Brian symphonies. Of the two, the Sixth is simply stunning. It is succinct. It has an epic-tragic symphonic manner that is bold yet remains connected to the heritage of Sibelius, Prokofiev, Holst and even Bax. Elements of the march stride and patter through this work which exudes both triumph and threat. The orchestration is masterly with atmosphere built in impregnable units of activity. The work was originally intended as a prelude to an opera on Synge’s Deirdre of the Sorrows – the opera was never completed due to copyright problems. The brass emit inimical groans and celebration in the Sixth is mixed with pain. Ostinati are thrown here and there over stutters from the rest of the orchestra. The violins shimmer, the harp lavishes silverpoints and showers of raindrops, the woodwind lament and keen and the principal trumpet calls from a distant field of conflict. The drenched and shining romance of the romantic theme for the strings at 10:04 is completely memorable in the same way as parts of The Gothic. The other work of which the Tragica is redolent is another Lyrita jewel – even if it is a dark one – Alwyn’s Symphony No. 5 Hydriotaphia. Having moved in 1958 to Shoreham on the Sussex littoral, Brian quickly produced five single-movement symphonies of which No. 16 is one. This is less accessible than No. 6 but is just as full of inwoven magical orchestral episodes: luminous and eerie intimations of strange worlds of beauty, horror and triumph. It simply needs more persistence than No. 6. The later Brian symphonies have a reputation for density of ideas and an impenetrable matte sound and a diffuse collision of ideas. The Sixteenth is amongst the clearest of the later symphonies.

Arnold Cooke’s music has made slow repertoire progress. While there were LPs it is only now that we are catching up with even a smattering of his works. Do try the BMS disc of his duo string sonatas on BMS432CD. His Third Symphony shared a Lyrita LP with the suite from Jabez and the Devil. [review] It’s a three movement work unlike the two Brian monoliths. The first movement has that beetling Hindemith sound moderated by some Tapiola-like writing and several moments that suggest a sympathy with Rawsthorne’s writing. Then central Lento is luminous with glowing strings and seraphic writing for the flute. Later this becomes more complex and astringent. The sanguine energy of the first movement returns for the finale. This has some quasi-fugal Rawsthorne-suffused gales which ply the Cooke saplings double alongside further hints of Hindemith. Some cooling and cold asides provide a stilly contrast.

The notes for the Havergal Brian works are splendid as is to be expected from Calum Macdonald. I am afraid that those for the Cooke symphony by Hugo Cole are of the opaquely descriptive type but, as ever, it’s the music that matters!

Three intrinsically pleasing tonal-melodic symphonies of real creative fibre.

Rob Barnett

I am grateful to Colin Mackie for pointing out that there is in fact a connection between Brian and Cooke. In 1936 Havergal Brian, writing in 'Musical Opinion', singled out Cooke as one of the most promising of the younger generation of British composers and praised his: "ability to think and breathe contrapuntally". It was therefore quite a nice juxtaposition to couple the two composers' works on the CD although it might otherwise appear an odd pairing.

Other related CD reviews on MusicWeb International:-
Cooke Symphony 1, Lyrita
Brian Symphony 1 The Gothic, Naxos
Brian Symphony 2, Naxos
Brian Symphony 4, 12, Naxos
Brian Symphonies 7-9, 31, EMI Classics
Brian Symphony 18, Naxos


see also Arnold Cooke pages

The Lyrita Catalogue





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