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Symphonies Nos. 22-24 / English Suite No. 1

4.7 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, May 28, 2013
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Frequently Bought Together

  • Symphonies Nos. 22-24 / English Suite No. 1
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  • Havergal Brian: Symphonies Nos. 6, 28, 29 & 31
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Editorial Reviews

During the remarkable and prolific period between his 72nd and 92nd birthdays, Havergal Brian wrote no fewer than 27 symphonies. Some seem to fall into groups, such as Nos. 22-24, all written within a nine-month period between 1964 and 1965. They all share a concern for march-rhythms, changeable moods and developing variation. No. 22 is Brian's shortest symphony and exemplifies his art in its most compressed, nocturnal form, whereas No. 23 offers a more extrovertly scored and expansive scale. No. 24 provides the triumphant rejoicing that ends the trilogy. Influenced by Tchaikovsky, the 1906 English Suite No. 1 nevertheless hints at Brian's sonic experiments to come.

Product Details

  • Audio CD (May 28, 2013)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Naxos
  • ASIN: B00BX8TZBI
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,863 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By John Abbott on June 14, 2014
Format: Audio CD
The term “late period” isn’t really appropriate in Brian’s case, given that the composer wrote 26 of his 32 symphonies between the ages of 72 (in 1948) and his death at aged 96 in 1972. The last ten span the final four years of Brian’s composing life, between 1964 and 1968. Within them, numbers 22-24, in particular form a concentrated and related group. Written between December 1964 and August 1965, they all have something of a martial sound and share a concern for march-rhythms, changeable moods and developing variation.

Symphony No 22 "Symphonia Brevis" (1964-5, but first performed in 1971) is Brian’s shortest symphony (at just nine minutes long) and one of the most tightly organized, with the dense polyphony of the opening maestoso, leading to a ghostly, nocturnal march, calm but uneasy.

Symphony No 23 (1965, first performed 1973) is another two movement work, Brian considered calling it “Symphonia grandis”. Like its predecessor, includes martial elements (in the opening allegro and prior to the conclusion). “Eerie, belligerent and seethes with incident” (Rob Barnett).

Symphony No 24 in D major (1965, first performed 1973) has just one movement of 18 minutes length, though it's divided into three sections of widely varying mood. The work closes with a restful, optimistic adagio.
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I keep an eye out for Naxos releases of the Havergal Brian symphonies. There is a wealth of melody and emotion in these works. My only wish is that they were all out. Naxos, as always, does an outstanding job on the performance end.
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Format: Audio CD
I scarcely know where to begin distributing praise and thanks for this latest entry in NAXOS' Brian series. (I obtained an advance copy from the Havergal Brian Society.) Here are much-needed first commercial recordings of Symphonies 23 and 24, as well as the first digital No.22 and English Suite No.1. Not to minimize the achievements of those who made the earliest recordings of these works (importantly, Myer Fredman, who tackled 22 and 24 for the BBC), but this new disc has the advantage of clear and bright modern recording. NAXOS's sound makes it easier to hear into the detailed textures, enabling one to better appreciate Brian's rapid process of motivic development and true melodic writing for low brass. If only for these purely technical reasons, this CD now handily replaces all those earlier recordings. What's more, in the symphonies, the orchestral playing is of a high standard--it isn't perfect, but the orchestra copes impressively with this awfully difficult stuff (the 1st trumpet part in particular is high and taxing). Conductor Alexander Walker has an affinity for the concentrated syntax of late Brian, and has breathed it into the excellent New Russia State Symphony Orchestra, for whom this was terra incognita (although I'm sure he would have liked a bit more rehearsal time).

In HBS Newsletter #225, Walker shares Brian scholar Malcolm MacDonald's conviction that these symphonies were connected in Brian's thoughts as a trilogy. Thematic resemblances among them reinforce this impression. Further, according to MacDonald's "The Symphonies of Havergal Brian," (to which I am heavily indebted in what follows) the composer's letters of the period to Robert Simpson (of the BBC) allude to ancient Greek dramatic trilogies, and a flirtation with an opera on Sophocles.
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