Author Topic: Havergal Brian.  (Read 928408 times)

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Offline vandermolen

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7940 on: June 23, 2020, 11:16:19 AM »
A rare foray into opera for me but a friend kindly sent me this. Having said this it is not on Testament, although it seems to be the same recording but without any notes but including radio announcements. I'm quite enjoying its characteriic quirkiness:
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7941 on: June 23, 2020, 11:30:41 AM »
The Tigers is terrific. Among the most colourful and inventive things Brian ever wrote. As an opera it doesn't really work, the story is weird, but the music, the music... !
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7942 on: June 23, 2020, 12:23:59 PM »
The Tigers is terrific. Among the most colourful and inventive things Brian ever wrote. As an opera it doesn't really work, the story is weird, but the music, the music... !
That's my impression as well Johan. Thanks  :)
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Online k a rl h e nn i ng

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7943 on: June 23, 2020, 02:53:05 PM »
Curious....
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
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http://www.karlhenning.com/
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His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot

Offline relm1

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7944 on: June 23, 2020, 05:07:31 PM »
A rare foray into opera for me but a friend kindly sent me this. Having said this it is not on Testament, although it seems to be the same recording but without any notes but including radio announcements. I'm quite enjoying its characteriic quirkiness:


Oh I love it!  I don't know exactly how to introduce it to new listerners.  Perhaps the orchestral suite which is like a concerto for orchestra?  It's really brilliant.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7945 on: June 23, 2020, 08:45:53 PM »
Oh I love it!  I don't know exactly how to introduce it to new listerners.  Perhaps the orchestral suite which is like a concerto for orchestra?  It's really brilliant.
Very interested to hear that you like it as well. I have some musical extracts on a Heritage CD with Foulds's impressive Pasquinade Symphonique No.1:
« Last Edit: June 23, 2020, 08:49:02 PM by vandermolen »
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline Maestro267

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7946 on: June 23, 2020, 10:17:56 PM »
I'm always naturally repelled by the idea of excerpts. I'll take the complete work, warts and all, for better or for worse.

Offline Volny

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7947 on: July 31, 2020, 11:37:50 PM »
Hi there - first time poster here.

I discovered the Gothic symphony this year, and I adore it. Though I'm still getting to know it, it's already clear to me that it's a masterpiece. Naturally, I've excitedly sampled quite a few of Brian's other symphonies since, but they all just leave me cold. I find this odd, since there are so many to choose from, representing almost half a century of creative development of the same mind that made the Gothic. And it's not even that I have an aversion to some of Brian's idiosyncracies as some others do: abrupt juxtapositions, heavy brass, lots of percussion - I actually like those elements.

I've not been able to put my finger on why they leave me so cold, though I came across a Fanfare review from some time ago where the reviewer complained that Brian's later symphonies seem devoid of emotion - noting for example that there's little that actually tangibly evokes tragedy in the "tragic" 6th. That resonated with me - OK, so I'm not the only one. Still, it's perplexing that emotion would be so lacking in the later symphonies, when the Gothic is so bursting with emotion at every seam: from tumultuous urgency to grim funereal melancholy, to giddy excitement.

So I suspect the problem lies with me, not with Brian. And I suspect that I need to pick one or two symphonies and really commit myself to listening to them multiple times, until their secrets open up to me. So, my question is: which one or two symphonies should I settle on? Which would be the most likely to appeal - after several focused listens - to someone who resonates with the Gothic, with its gravitas, its cinematographic spaciousness, its almost psychedelically surreal episodes?

Oh, and although the 4th might make a good candidate on paper due to its epic war setting and choral nature, I don't think it's for me as I find it too operatic, which is not my cup of tea.

Thanks in advance!
« Last Edit: August 01, 2020, 06:48:09 PM by Volny »

Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7948 on: August 01, 2020, 11:31:08 PM »
Hi there - first time poster here.

I discovered the Gothic symphony this year, and I adore it. Though I'm still getting to know it, it's already clear to me that it's a masterpiece. Naturally, I've excitedly sampled quite a few of Brian's other symphonies since, but they all just leave me cold. I find this odd, since there are so many to choose from, representing almost half a century of creative development of the same mind that made the Gothic. And it's not even that I have an aversion to some of Brian's idiosyncracies as some others do: abrupt juxtapositions, heavy brass, lots of percussion - I actually like those elements.

I've not been able to put my finger on why they leave me so cold, though I came across a Fanfare review from some time ago where the reviewer complained that Brian's later symphonies seem devoid of emotion - noting for example that there's little that actually tangibly evokes tragedy in the "tragic" 6th. That resonated with me - OK, so I'm not the only one. Still, it's perplexing that emotion would be so lacking in the later symphonies, when the Gothic is so bursting with emotion at every seam: from tumultuous urgency to grim funereal melancholy, to giddy excitement.

So I suspect the problem lies with me, not with Brian. And I suspect that I need to pick one or two symphonies and really commit myself to listening to them multiple times, until their secrets open up to me. So, my question is: which one or two symphonies should I settle on? Which would be the most likely to appeal - after several focused listens - to someone who resonates with the Gothic, with its gravitas, its cinematographic spaciousness, its almost psychedelically surreal episodes?

Oh, and although the 4th might make a good candidate on paper due to its epic war setting and choral nature, I don't think it's for me as I find it too operatic, which is not my cup of tea.

Thanks in advance!

Unfortunately Brian wrote only one Gothic, the other symphonies are increasingly different. There is emotion in them, but probably a very British sort of emotion that looks to anyone else like a lack of emotion, call it reflective stoicism if you will.
Perhaps start at the very end, #32. That piece to me is dripping with poignancy.

Offline vers la flamme

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7949 on: August 02, 2020, 02:10:05 AM »
Which Gothic Symphony recording is "the one to get"? The Marco Polo? Or is the Hyperion w/ Martyn Brabbins perhaps better? I do enjoy his conducting.

Offline Volny

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7950 on: August 02, 2020, 02:28:35 AM »
Word on the street seems to be pretty unanimous that the Hyperion one is the clear winner (don't let the inexplicably amateurish CD cover throw you). The Marco Polo/Naxos has had some semi-decent reviews, though Mark Morris in his excellent 20th Century music guide was uncharacteristically harsh and called it a travesty, and "....a skeleton stripped of all its flesh and muscle".
« Last Edit: August 02, 2020, 02:31:23 AM by Volny »

Offline vers la flamme

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7951 on: August 02, 2020, 02:39:11 AM »
Word on the street seems to be pretty unanimous that the Hyperion one is the clear winner (don't let the inexplicably amateurish CD cover throw you). The Marco Polo/Naxos has had some semi-decent reviews, though Mark Morris in his excellent 20th Century music guide was uncharacteristically harsh and called it a travesty, and "....a skeleton stripped of all its flesh and muscle".

Hmm, OK. Thanks for the comments. Furthermore, welcome to GMG! Hope you stick around. You'll find a bunch of Brian/Gothic Symphony fans here, a group to which I don't belong, but have long been curious about this composer at least.

Offline Christo

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7952 on: August 02, 2020, 02:47:26 AM »
Word on the street seems to be pretty unanimous that the Hyperion one is the clear winner (don't let the inexplicably amateurish CD cover throw you). The Marco Polo/Naxos has had some semi-decent reviews, though Mark Morris in his excellent 20th Century music guide was uncharacteristically harsh and called it a travesty, and "....a skeleton stripped of all its flesh and muscle".
I'm not the only one who's far more positive about the Lenard/Bratislava performance (now on Naxos), which I find really competive with the newer one under Martyn Brabbins.
… music is not only an 'entertainment’, nor a mere luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual if not of the physical life, an opening of those magic casements through which we can catch a glimpse of that country where ultimate reality will be found.    RVW, 1948

Offline relm1

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7953 on: August 02, 2020, 03:56:10 AM »
I'm not the only one who's far more positive about the Lenard/Bratislava performance (now on Naxos), which I find really competive with the newer one under Martyn Brabbins.

For me, they're a draw.  Brabbins wins in some moments and Lenard/Bratislava wins in others.  It's definitely not something I would agree "pretty unanimous that the Hyperion one is the clear winner".  I have both and like them for different reasons. 

Offline J.Z. Herrenberg

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7954 on: August 02, 2020, 04:27:50 AM »
@Volny
Welcome to the HB thread! I sympathise with your problems concerning Brian's later symphonies. The Gothic is a one-off. Symphonies 2-4 inhabit parts of its world, without really sounding like it. Brian is always fresh and different. As for the term 'later symphonies', I do think that they come in two batches, as Malcolm MacDonald posited: 6-17 and 18-32. Symphonies 6-17 still have something epic and Romantic about them, whereas 18-32 have a cooller, more abstract feel, with counterpoint predominant. Every Brian symphony has to be grappled with. Some have immediate appeal (I think), like 3, 6, 7, 8, 10 and 22. Others are 'intermediate', like 16, 27 and 30. And then there are a few that don't want to ingratiate themselves at all, like 23, 25 and 26. I suggest you try to 'get' a symphony one at a time. Simply try to understand how a Brian symphony operates, once you get used to the style, you can explore some more. Good luck!
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything. -- Plato

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7955 on: August 02, 2020, 09:35:29 AM »
I'm not the only one who's far more positive about the Lenard/Bratislava performance (now on Naxos), which I find really competive with the newer one under Martyn Brabbins.
I also like that performance as well, not to mention Boult's one.

Volny. Welcome to the forum. My recommendation would definitely to be for Symphony 8 which I find to be a searching, eloquent and moving work. My favourite recording is conducted by Sir Charles Groves. I also agree with Johan's recommendations above this post:

« Last Edit: August 02, 2020, 09:40:52 AM by vandermolen »
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline krummholz

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7956 on: August 02, 2020, 11:46:48 AM »
As others have said, the Gothic was a one-off and there is really no other symphony in Brian's output that has those same qualities you mention in combination - gravitas, cinematographic spaciousness, psychedelic surreality... you will certainly find all of those qualities in his later symphonies, but not all in combination. For gravitas I would recommend the 8th, the 16th, and the 30th; for spaciousness, the 7th and the 21st. For psychedelic surreality perhaps the 18th, the 23rd, or even the 27th.

One characteristic of Brian's later symphonies is the constantly changing instrumental combinations that some have called "kaleidoscopic", and can also give the impression of surreality. There is no better example of this than the second movement of the 23rd, which moves in a couple short minutes from a few bars of string quartet to a rollicking march for different instrumental combinations and the occasional wham! of the full tutti.

Congratulations, though, on trying to come to terms with the very different composer that Brian became in his later years as compared with when he wrote the Gothic. Some folks can relate to the earlier Brian better than the later and there is no failing in that, it's just personal taste. Others prefer the later Brian to the earlier - I count myself in this group, but that's largely because I favor music that is terse and compact over that which is sprawling and overflowing with ideas. Again, just personal taste. The Gothic is still an amazing masterpiece by a composer that the musical world had largely forgotten, and continued to ignore for another 30 years.

Good luck in your explorations!

Hi there - first time poster here.

I discovered the Gothic symphony this year, and I adore it. Though I'm still getting to know it, it's already clear to me that it's a masterpiece. Naturally, I've excitedly sampled quite a few of Brian's other symphonies since, but they all just leave me cold. I find this odd, since there are so many to choose from, representing almost half a century of creative development of the same mind that made the Gothic. And it's not even that I have an aversion to some of Brian's idiosyncracies as some others do: abrupt juxtapositions, heavy brass, lots of percussion - I actually like those elements.

I've not been able to put my finger on why they leave me so cold, though I came across a Fanfare review from some time ago where the reviewer complained that Brian's later symphonies seem devoid of emotion - noting for example that there's little that actually tangibly evokes tragedy in the "tragic" 6th. That resonated with me - OK, so I'm not the only one. Still, it's perplexing that emotion would be so lacking in the later symphonies, when the Gothic is so bursting with emotion at every seam: from tumultuous urgency to grim funereal melancholy, to giddy excitement.

So I suspect the problem lies with me, not with Brian. And I suspect that I need to pick one or two symphonies and really commit myself to listening to them multiple times, until their secrets open up to me. So, my question is: which one or two symphonies should I settle on? Which would be the most likely to appeal - after several focused listens - to someone who resonates with the Gothic, with its gravitas, its cinematographic spaciousness, its almost psychedelically surreal episodes?

Oh, and although the 4th might make a good candidate on paper due to its epic war setting and choral nature, I don't think it's for me as I find it too operatic, which is not my cup of tea.

Thanks in advance!

Offline Roasted Swan

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7957 on: Today at 12:21:18 AM »
For me, they're a draw.  Brabbins wins in some moments and Lenard/Bratislava wins in others.  It's definitely not something I would agree "pretty unanimous that the Hyperion one is the clear winner".  I have both and like them for different reasons.

Fair comment which I agree with.  Glad to have the Boult live version too.  I think the choral sound in the Lenard is better.  Those Eastern European choirs make a sound Brits just can't!

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7958 on: Today at 01:30:49 AM »
Just playing this. I've always loved No.8 but had not realised how good No.14 is. It is oddly Sibelian in places. Excellent notes from a familiar Dutch contributor to this thread  ;D
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline Volny

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Re: Havergal Brian.
« Reply #7959 on: Today at 01:43:41 AM »
I should have known better than to purport to speak on behalf of 'the street'!  ;D

I've only heard snippets of the Bratislava myself. Of the few samples I heard, some (eg. the xylophone solo) sounded a bit muddier than the Hyperion. According to that Mark Morris quote I linked to, some of the instruments were actually missing in the Bratislava (or at least under-levelled in the recording - not sure which he meant). Judging by the rest of Morris' [effusively glowing] description of the symphony, he seemed to know it very well - presumably from the sheet music, the Gould recording, and perhaps also from witnessing the unrecorded 1980s performance. Still, I have no doubt that the Bratislava has strengths as well as weaknesses, and I'm sure I'll buy it at some stage and come to appreciate what it has to offer.

I suspect none of us have heard anything close to an ideal performance of the Gothic, and I suppose we probably never will :(. Performances are so rare and the forces required so great that there probably hasn't been much opportunity for all the musicians involved to really 'grow into' the symphony's full potential. Reading reviews and sleeve notes of the BBC/Hyperion performance, one gets the sense that many of the people involved were so exhilarated by the mere logistical achievement of getting 800+ performers to play in time and not trip over each other into a gigantic pile-up of frocks and brass, that the actual artistic merits of the performance were almost of secondary importance.

Anyway, thanks very much for your kind suggestions. Trying to take all suggestions on board, and be open to multiple parts of Brian's spectrum, I guess I'll shortlist 3, 8, 23, 32 to be the ones to try and sink my teeth into.

By the way, does anyone know if there's a digitised version of Malcolm Macdonald's triple volume work about Brian's symphonies available to purchase and/or download anywhere?
« Last Edit: Today at 03:29:30 AM by Volny »