Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Brian & Cooke

Havergal Brian Symphonies No 6 Sinfonia Tragica (1948) & No 16 (1960)
Arnold Cooke Symphony No 3 in D (1967)

London Philharmonic Orchestra/Fredman & Braithwaite

Lyrita SRCD 295

These are invaluable reissues from the early '70s, part of the Wyastone Estates rescue operation for the whole Lyrita catalogue.

It was the late Brian which caught my eye, but the symphony of the near-forgotten Arnold Cooke (pictured) was the bigger surprise.

Surviving until practically 99 (1906-2005) he is best remembered for having studied in Berlin in his twenties and adopting for his musical language the manner of his teacher Paul Hindemith. Forty years on this symphony proves to have lasting qualities which, with new championship, could make it welcome in symphony concerts, say at the Proms and on the radio (and how often do we now even hear Hindemith's own symphonies, save for an occasional airing of the one derived from the Mathis der Maler opera?). It is well crafted in three movements, the outer ones compact and the central lento expansive, analysed for us by Hugo Cole.

The Brian pairing is of the first recording of that controversial composer to be made by fully professional forces, and the quality of performance and recording are all that you could want. The 6th is a compact one-movement piece which has connections with an unfinished opera, prophetic of his belated renewal of acitivity in later life, with five concentrated single movement symphonies completed in 14 months, a symphonic flood prompted by the interest and support of Robert Simpson and the BBC Third Programme after a long time in the wilderness.

Far more radical and extraordinary than no 6 is No 16, in which Calum MacDonald, the authority on Brian, distinguishes the landmarks of six sections in his helpful commentary. Brian rejects transitions and in an 18 minutes helter-skelter hurls the listener dizzyingly from one thought to another with disconcerting rapidity, all orchestrated flamboyantly for a huge orchestra (10 percussionists !). Christopher Norris, in Tempo, describes it 'as starkly unmannered as anything by any British composer in the century'.

With unfussy presentation, this is a highly desirable disc to which I shall quickly be returning.

Peter Grahame Woolf