HAVERGAL BRIAN (1876-1972): Symphonies No. 8 in B Flat Minor, No. 21 in E Flat and No. 26 (World Premiere Recording).
Catalogue Number: 11T008
Description: The 26th was the last of Brian's symphonies awaiting its recorded premiere, and now here it is. Positioned between the more substantial and profound 25th and 27th, the work has something of the character of a scherzo separating more serious statements. Such things are relative, though; the work, especially the first movement, has all the expected characteristics of late Brian; brusque, craggy march-like episodes in martial scoring; fiercely compressed form, and abrupt changes of mood. The first movement is in a kind of sonata form, simultaneously expanded and foreshortened. The second movement comprises a short scherzo-like section, arguably too slight to stand as a discrete movement as the composer's sketches suggest, and the finale proper. This is a busy rondo structure with elements of the burlesque and a generally playful mood, though with outbursts of heavily scored, martial aggression. The end of the symphony is abrupt, with a feeling of impatient dismissal, as though the composer were anxious to get on to the weightier 27th. The late, much lamented Malcolm MacDonald, in his seminal study of Brian's symphonies, is rather unkind to the 21st, comparing it unfavorably to the tauter, highly compressed works around it. The work is admittedly somewhat unusual, especially given its position in Brian's output; in four movements and traditional form including a lively but standard scherzo, it has elements of a definable 'Englishness' about it, with a distinctly pastoral slow movement. Aficionados of the British symphony, though, skeptical of the teeming expository frenzy of Brian's later style, may find that the more leisurely presentation and more orthodox development of ideas in this unmistakably Brianic work provide a more accessible transition from the grandly Romantic early symphonies to his later style than any of the other late works. Little needs to be said about the 8th, long familiar from the Groves recording for EMI. This is among Brian's finest and most innovative works, full of structural novelty and astonishing scoring, and as with any great symphony alternative interpretations are never redundant, fully to explore the work's riches. New Russia State Symphony Orchestra; Alexander Walker.