Brian: Symphonies No 6, 28, 29 & 31 / Walker

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Brian’s Sixth Symphony, subtitled “Sinfonia Tragica,” makes an ideal introduction to his music. It’s full of evocative sounds and unusually (for him) arresting thematic ideas, and its single movement takes less than twenty minutes. The last few minutes are a Mahlerian phantasmagoria of march and dance tunes not unlike the wild outburst in the development section of the first movement of the German composer’s Third Symphony, but the final bars are hauntingly elegiac. Very well recorded once before for Lyrita, this newcomer is also quite well done, and has enough differences in tone and texture to justify duplication.

Symphonies Nos. 28 and 29 both date from 1967, and both have four movements that play without pause, more or less. No. 28 is only fourteen minutes long in total. Late Brian is an acquired taste, largely because of the music’s relentlessly contrapuntal textures, heavy orchestration with lots of low brass and percussion, and lack of simple repetition to permit listeners to get their bearings. Indeed, these pieces, and the brief, single-movement No. 31 for that matter, sound as though Brian simply chopped off hunks of music from some larger overall blob of material. And yet, the opening of No. 28 has an innocent simplicity of tone and texture that the composer never lost, and all of this music sounds like no one else. That is why it retains its peculiar fascination. It may not be “easy” or “friendly,” but it is distinctive, and the work of a strong musical personality with a definite message.

As with No. 6, the performances under Alexander Walker sound remarkably assured given the unfamiliarity of the material, and they are very well recorded. The Havergal Brian Society and Mr. Godfrey Berry underwrote this production, and they definitely got their money’s worth.

– David Hurwitz,

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8573408

  • UPC: 747313340873

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Havergal Brian

  • Conductor: Alexander Walker

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: New Russia State Symphony Orchestra