HAVERGAL BRIAN: Symphonies 6 & 16 – London Philharmonic/ Fredman – ARNOLD COOKE: Sym. No. 3 – London Philharmonic/ Braithwaite – Lyrita

by | Feb 14, 2012 | Classical Reissue Reviews

HAVERGAL BRIAN: Symphonies 6 & 16 – London Philharmonic/ Fredman – ARNOLD COOKE: Symphony No. 3 – London Philharmonic/ Braithwaite – Lyrita SRCD.295 [Distr. by Allegro], 60:26 ****:
Oh, how the British love their composers! The Lyrita label was one of the first to extensively record twentieth century English composers. This is a 2008 reissue of an original Lyrita recording made in 1973-4 in Walthamstow Assembly Hall by the esteemed Decca recording team, including the great Kenneth Wilkinson. In the LP days, audiophiles prized these great discs for their superb sound, and, indeed they still rival the best recordings of today, albeit in pristine digital transfers.
The musical significance of the Lyrita label was to bring to classical music listeners the music of forgotten British composers. Havergal Brian (1876-1972) certainly falls into that category. For most of his long life, Brian’s prolific (he wrote 32 symphonies) output was neglected. Born in a working class family, he taught himself composition, and was given a bare-bones subsidy by a businessman to compose. But, for many reasons, including his shy personality, his works were never discovered until the 1970’s, when the English composer Robert Simpson, became a champion. Meanwhile, Brian never stopped composing, writing 21 of his 32 symphonies when in his eighties and nineties! Does such passion and persistence merit our attention today?
Symphony No. 6 ‘Sinfonia Tragica (1948) was originally conceived as prelude to an opera based on Synge’s tragedy Deirdre of the Sorrows, which Brian couldn’t write because another composer had been given the rights. This almost 20-minute work is divided into three parts. What one notices is Brian’s sense of flow in this episodic work and his imaginative use of percussion, especially the side drums, something he is well known for. The contemplatively sad Lento is sung in a gorgeous string melody, which gradually is transformed into a combatative and moving finale.  Brian is superb orchestrator and his musical imagination never wanes. The Symphony No. 16 (1960), also in one movement, takes the listener on a wild ride that starts with a misty and evocative beginning through numerous jagged edges and monumental vistas that are endlessly fascinating and even bizarre at times. Myer Fredman and the London Philharmonic are capable leaders.
Arnold Cooke (1906-2005) went to Berlin at age 23 to study with Paul Hindemith, and his music is tonal, with a directness and melodic invention that is very winning. The Third Symphony (1967) reminds me a lot of Hindemith’s masterpiece, his Mathis der Mahler Symphony. That’s no faint praise, and anyone liking middle-period Hindemith will like this work. Nicholas Braithwaite’s performance does it full justice. This disc is an excellent introduction to two worthwhile British composers.
—Robert Moon

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