HAVERGAL BRIAN: The Tigers – Teresa Cahill (Mrs. Freebody)/ Marilyn Hill-Smith (Toy seller)/ Alan Opie (Young man)/ Kenneth Woollam (Man on Elephant)/ BBC Sym. Orch., Lionel Friend – Testament (3 CDs)

A milestone in recordings, available on CD for the first time.

HAVERGAL BRIAN: The Tigers – Teresa Cahill (Mrs. Freebody)/ Marilyn Hill-Smith (Toy seller)/ Alan Opie (Young man)/ Kenneth Woollam (Man on Elephant)/ BBC Sym. Orch., Lionel Friend – Testament SBT3 1496, (3 CDs), 161:45 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

Havergal Brian composed a lot of music—if you can imagine any composer today completing 32 symphonies, of which 14 were done in his eighties and seven in his nineties, then you get a good idea of what this composer was all about. Stylistically he is also difficult to peg; while the pastoralism common to the British composers of the last century are to be found here, albeit sometimes in a camouflaged way, Bach and the late romantics beginning with Wagner rule the day. [He has been compared to Mahler in some of his symphonies…Ed.] Though it is not correct to say that Brian was a stream-of-consciousness composer, for there is structure to his work, it is interrupted constantly with what can only be described as willful intrusions, compositional asides that often lead down unexpected paths.

The Tigers was his first opera (of five), composed 1917-29, a crazed quilt of comic unpreparedness as the British Army regiment, “The Tigers,” gets ready for war on the home front. There are no stars as we know them—the ones I have listed above are simply a token of the entire cast, a fine assemblage of the best Brits available in the 1980s. This BBC studio recording, released in 1983, is the only recording of this wonderful work, and it has reached CD land for the very first time.  The Havergal Brian Society was responsible for the production, based on the score which had been lost since the Second World War, and grants it blessing here as well.

It’s easy to understand why this opera would have problems today—there are simply too many cast members, though I can imagine an updating might have a great chance even on Broadway. The music is lively, lovely, and wedded to the comic element with verve and rhythmic fusion that shows the young composer at his best and most witty. The sound is terrific here, made at Maida Vale Studios for original broadcast on BBC 1. It’s an important issue that will bring great pleasure to one and all.

— Steven Ritter

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