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Paul Rapoport
Fanfare, August 2001

"I'll gently recommend this disc to anyone interested in exploring Brian...It's not an easy journey...But it is worthwhile."



Roger Hecht
American Record Guide, October 2000

"This is a perfect disc for those curious about Brian but put off by the large scale of his early works or the grim, terse quality of the middle and later ones...

"Like all the works on this disc, it grows out of short ideas, in this case two mottos heard complete for the first time at the beginning of II. Malcolm Macdonald's notes describe the opening Adagio perfectly as, "a slow, seamless web of elegiac polyphony, with none of his habitual sudden changes of direction. In this calm, fixed stare on a mystery, phrase answers and dovetails with phrase, the whole movement growing organically from its opening bar and articulated primarily by the ebb and flow of tensions in the harmony. The motion is undisturbed until the closing moments [but for] two short-lived dynamic peaks." II grows out of the jaunty mottoes, and the texture becomes complex. A series of contemplative woodwind ensembles alternates with the motto-based material, leading to a beautiful shoe solo with chorale-like responses in the strings. This Brucknerian passage leads to what is essentially a second slow movement. A strident interjection breaks in, but repose wins out, and we come to a passage of 'night-music" with a touch of Rimsky-Korsakoff. Through all of this, the mottos are cleverly and absorbingly worked in, sometimes easily recognizable, other times broken up, disguised, or transformed. The short upbeat finale begins with a fanfare, then relaxes as it works through several piquant, almost conversationally lyrical passages. The triumphant ending is full of cheer.

"The 15th's (1960) one movement is in three parts. The opening English-Handelian fanfare dominates the rest of the symphony in a way that is rare for Brian, as forms of the fanfare alternate with quiet moments, some happy, others more solemn. The variety is impressive from marches to duets, to baroque-like forms Macdonald calls this section a 'victory parade,' but there is always a pensive cloud lurking either overhead or in the distance. A lyrical clarinet begins a transparent slow section: the music again touches on the baroque with more solos and duets A brass interlude intones a variation of the opening theme, but solos and pensive, almost religious moments follow, including a beautifully stark trio for flute, born, and glockenspiel. The third section begins with a 6/4 skipping version of the opening that plays like a foot-stomping La Valse - a parody of a parody, so to speak. The brass end the symphony with yet another variant of the opening fanfare...

"All works benefit immensely from committed performances and sound by people who have taken this music to heart."



Robert Matthew-Walker
International Record Review, June 2000

"With this disc, the ground-breaking Marco Polo Havergal Brian cycle is about one-third of the way through. When it is completed it will takes its place in recorded history as one of the more important achievements of the gramophone, in bringing to music lovers throughout the world the life's work of a great and original, but vitally relevant composer."



David Hurwitz
ClassicsToday.com, June 2000

"Havergal Brian is a much better composer than passing acquaintance with the 'Gothic' Symphony suggests. In fact, it's very ironic that Marco Polo's recording of that fascinating but intermittently successful behemoth should be far and away the most successful in the series in terms of popularity; the fact is, virtually all of Brian's subsequent music is better. For anyone coming to Brian fresh, here's the best place to start because the music on this excellent disc offers an overview of his whole career, chosen from strength and very well played and recorded.

For Valour is a big tone poem of Straussian/Elgarian ambition, scored for large orchestra with organ. It presents no problems to the listener at all, and if you like big, bombastic late-Romantic expostulations, then this baby's for you. Doctor Merryheart is a theme and variations based on a program of the composer's own devising (I needn't quote it here; it's thoroughly and engagingly discussed in the accompanying booklet). The music is delightful, and track 9 (titled 'Dreams: Asleep in the Arms of Venus') is as lovely and Romantic a passage as Brian ever penned, a sort of cross between Vaughan Williams and Wagner's Siegfried Idyll. Anyone who believes that Brian's music consists largely of clunky rhythms and overloaded climaxes swollen with brass and percussion should hear this charming and even graceful work.

The same observation holds true in the two symphonies. The vast majority of Brian's works in this form are actually short, and it's their concision and abruptness that makes them difficult at times for the beginner. You really have to pay attention all the time or you'll miss something important. But at 24 and 23 minutes respectively, your powers of concentration will hardly be taxed here. Symphony No. 11 begins with a Brucknerian Adagio as Brian weaves a lovely web of serene string polyphony. Sleigh bells a la Mahler's Fourth open the second movement, which is essentially a scherzo with slower interludes. The melodic material is simple, jolly, and easy to follow in all of its many permutations. The slow music gradually takes over, and as the music eases to a halt, a martial finale kicks in and winds the whole thing up in about four minutes of pomp and circumstance.

The same observation holds true in the two symphonies. The vast majority of Brian's works in this form are actually short, and it's their concision and abruptness that makes them difficult at times for the beginner. You really have to pay attention all the time or you'll miss something important. But at 24 and 23 minutes respectively, your powers of concentration will hardly be taxed here. Symphony No. 11 begins with a Brucknerian Adagio as Brian weaves a lovely web of serene string polyphony. Sleigh bells a la Mahler's Fourth open the second movement, which is essentially a scherzo with slower interludes. The melodic material is simple, jolly, and easy to follow in all of its many permutations. The slow music gradually takes over, and as the music eases to a halt, a martial finale kicks in and winds the whole thing up in about four minutes of pomp and circumstance.

Symphony No. 15 has three big parts played continuously, and by now you should have a sense of Brian's characteristic sound world. There's the martial music for brass and percussion, his uniquely personal melodic use of xylophone and glockenspiel, those passages of seeming emptiness punctuated by flecks of harp and flute, as well as his love of "low" sounds--tubas, bassoons, double basses, and timpani. The present symphony culminates in a finale of rambunctious abandon; a drum-led dance alternates with slightly parodied waltz music. Really, there's nothing at all difficult about any of this. It just doesn't sound like anyone else. The important thing is that when Brian is really 'on', and he seems to be 'on' more often than not, he's one of the most interesting and gripping symphonists of the 20th century.

On the whole, the performances here are very fine. There are a couple of places in Symphony No. 15 where a little more virtuosity from the front desks (especially the first horn) wouldn't have been amiss, but absolutely nothing detracts from our ability to enjoy the proceedings. Do try to make Brian's acquaintance. His reputation as a "cult" composer has hurt him, and there's so much more to his music than the "Gothic". Marco Polo is undertaking a mammoth enterprise in recording his complete orchestral works. It's a venture that deserves your support, and will reward your time and attention for years to come. Start here."






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3:48:11 AM, 27 July 2014
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