Havergal Brian: Violin Concerto in C (1935) - Ralph Holmes, violin; New Philharmonia Orchestra/Stanley Pope - Symphony No 28 in c minor (1967) New Philharmonia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
KHCD-2012-061DL (STEREO) - Havergal Brian: Violin Concerto in C (1935) - Ralph Holmes, violin; New Philharmonia Orchestra/Stanley Pope - Symphony No 28 in c minor (1967) New Philharmonia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski - It is by now almost common knowledge among the cognoscenti of classical music that Havergal Brian (1876-1972) wrote 32 symphonies – starting with the enormous and still-controversial Gothic – and suffered decades of neglect. This situation only began to change in the 1950s, mainly through the untiring efforts of fellow composer Robert Simpson at the BBC. Another architect of the ongoing Brian ‘Renaissance’ has been the brilliant music critic Malcolm MacDonald, whose seminal three-volume survey of Brian’s symphonies ranks as the single most important contribution to our understanding of Havergal Brian in general. Finally, the Havergal Brian Society has done a lot to keep public awareness alive through, among other things, sponsoring performances and recordings.
Brian was born in the same decade as composers like Ravel, Scriabin and Ralph Vaughan Williams, but his style belongs to no discernable school. Of course, he had his influences – Berlioz, Wagner, Elgar and Strauss spring to mind –, but he digested them thoroughly and never really sounds like anyone else. The two works on this CD offer ample evidence of this. The Violin Concerto, from 1935, one could call ‘early mature’ Brian. He was already in his fifties. He had served his apprenticeship between 1900 and 1914 with a series of choral works and colourful symphonic poems. Then World War I broke out, and everything changed, not least his luck as a composer. But, although many decades of neglect lay in store for him, Brian found himself, too. By 1935, therefore, he had written four massive symphonies and an opera, The Tigers, all of them works of power and originality (and all of them unplayed for many years to come).
The Violin Concerto is Havergal Brian in a more lyrical vein, though it has its share of intense and polyphonically-dense moments, too. The story around its creation is typical – Brian lost a first concerto on the train a year earlier and reconstructed the current one from themes he could remember… The work, as it is, has three movements. The Allegro moderato is in a free sonata form. Brian manages to mix the simple and the complex in expert fashion. No lack of hummable tunes here. The second movement, Lento, is a passacaglia, fifteen variations on a grave theme, ending in utter serenity. The final movement, Allegro fuoco, gives us the most overtly ‘English’ music of the whole concerto, and goes out in a (rather pithy) blaze of glory.
Symphony No. 28 in C minor was written in 1967, when Havergal Brian was 91. His style had changed, his music was being played. All of the symphonies post-World War II are characterized by a dramatic rapidity of thought, counterpoint, extreme brevity of expression, obliquity. They are densely-packed bombs of information and need repeated hearings. No. 28 is no exception. It is in four linked movements which create their own form. The orchestra Brian uses is large, with an extended percussion section, which isn’t there just for embellishment. The symphony may start innocuously enough, but what follows is mercurially unpredictable, a progression of intensifying moods and visions, from movement to movement, which builds to a Varèse-like explosion in the final Allegro vivo. One can analize this symphony, as Malcolm MacDonald does with his usual excellence in the middle volume of his survey, but in the final analysis, this music literally defies description and has to be experienced.
The recordings on this CD appear to be first performances. The Violin Concerto is played by Ralph Holmes with the New Philharmonia Orchestra, conductor Stanley Pope, recorded on 1 June 1969. Symphony No. 28 was recorded on 7 June 1973, with Leopold Stokowski conducting the same orchestra. - Notes by Johan Herrenberg 2012