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Penguin Guide, January 2009

Havergal Brian’s Second Symphony, scored for no fewer than sixteen horns (though only eight are used here), three sets of timpani, two pianos and organ, was written in 1930–31. Originally inspired by Goethe’s play Götz von Berlichingen, each of the movements supposedly represented various aspects of the character of Götz: the first his resolution, the second his domestic piety and the love of his children, the third the smell of the battle, and the fourth his death. The composer later distanced himself from all programmatic associations with the score, merely allowing, in a letter in 1972, that the work represents ‘Man in his cosmic loneliness: ambition, loves, battles and death’. The composer that year dedicated the score to his beloved daughter, who had just died. Cast in conventional four movements—though, as the composer said, ‘very unorthodox inside’—one is helped through this complex score by Naxos’s generous cueing points, allied to very helpful notes by Callum MacDonald. Throughout the work, one sense the composer exploring with textures, harmonies—and melody. Though the influence of Mahler and Bruckner is felt, so too are his cotemporaries, Berg, Schoenberg and Szymanowski. The ostinato-Scherzo, with its hunting horns, one group after another, is particularly memorable. The finale evokes Siegfried’s Funeral March from Götterdämmerung. An excellent performance…The CD opens with the composer’s single brass-only work, the short, pithy Festival Fanfare of 1967. Good sound throughout.

Derek Warby
MusicWeb International, January 2008

With the gradual reissue of the original Marco Polo releases of Havergal Brian’s symphonies on the bargain-priced Naxos label, it is to be hoped that more people will explore the music of this fascinating but still largely under-appreciated maverick English composer. The original Marco Polo CDs were tantalisingly labelled the Brian Cycle but only 11 of the canon of 32 have appeared to date, leaving many still unrecorded. One can only hope that more recordings are lurking in the Naxos archives awaiting release....With no alternative recordings available, this disc serves to show what a unique force Havergal Brian was in British music and connoisseurs of off-the-beaten-track music from England will find much to enthral them here.

Colin Clarke
Fanfare, January 2008

The performance here is appropriately confident.

This is significant music, make no mistake. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, October 2007

After welcoming Brian's Fourth Symphony recently (8.570308 - see review), it is a pleasure to report on a further reissue of the music of this important composer. Originally on Marco Polo 8.223790, this Second Symphony becomes a must-buy at the cheaper price tag.

We begin, though, with the 1967 Festival Fanfare, Brian’s one brass-only work. It is one of the last works we know of by the composer. Its argument is terse but confident. The performance here mirrors this confidence.

The earlier Second Symphony (1930/31) is scored for typically huge orchestra, including two pianos, three sets of timpani, organ and 16 horns - although strangely only eight are used in the present recording. Although in four movements, Naxos has allocated several track points to each movement, a real help when interacting with Malcom MacDonald's superb notes.

Inspired by Goethe, specifically the early drama, Götz von Berlichingen, each movement allegedly concerns a specific character trait of Götz: the first, resolution; the second, domestic piety; the third, battle; the fourth, death. Textures are often complex but never blurred.

Some of the playing leaves a little to be desired, but Brian's demands are harsh, after all. The mysterious foreboding of the symphony’s opening leads to some strained playing from the strings  but there is no denying that the atmosphere is there. There are contrasts in this first movement, but they have to be heard in context; thus the second subject, whilst suave and delicate, never really gives any true balm or hope. Brian’s inspiration takes flight in the Andante sostenuto e molto espressivo second movement, where there is a lovely use of solo violin, although the soloist seems rather recessed in the overall sound picture.

By far the briefest movement, the Scherzo only lasts around six minutes. The horns come into their own here, with antiphonal calls chasing each other over string poundings. MacDonald is absolutely correct to identify the Wagnerian elements in the finale: “Siegfried’s Funeral March” from Götterdämmerung. Brian plans the music so it moves towards a massive climax that is cruelly cut short, to be followed by some stunningly beautiful harmonies in the lower strings. The haunting end leaves one in a sort of stunned reverie.

I keep on asking myself is there no end to Brian's invention? We are privileged to be able to hear these scores at all, and it is good that the Moscow Orchestra gives its all for the Brianesque cause. We need much more of the same ...

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