HAVERGAL BRIAN: Symphonies Nos. 22, 23, 24; English Suite No. 1 – New Russia State Sym. Orch./ Alexander Walker – Naxos 8.572833, 65:00 (5/28/13) ****:
Havergal Brian was not a name that quickly pops into mind when thinking of English composers, but Brian was prolific, and when he died in 1972 he had written 32 symphonies, 14 while he was in his 80s, and seven more when the composer was in his 90s.
The Naxos release under consideration here contains Symphonies Nos. 22, 23 and 24 along with his more popular English Suite No. 1. The Symphonies 23 and 24 claim to be world premier recording but I was able to find other recording in the catalogs, although they are currently out of print..
Brian’s symphonic style has elements of Mahler, Bruckner, Elgar and even Ives. The music is in some places bombastic, and in others deeply inward-focused. Although called symphonies, the structure of the works does not follow symphonic norms. The Symphony Nos. 22 and 23 are two-movement works, while the Symphony 24 is more traditional with four movements.
The recording here is with the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra with Alexander Walker conducting. Performances are crisp, and Brian’s compositions can be difficult to perform. The recording was done in Moscow at the State Radio and TV Theater and is excellent. The brass is recorded very well, along with the percussion that Brian used to good effect.
The three symphonies and the English Suite are an excellent introduction to this little-known composer.