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Havergal Brian

Violin Concerto in C major; Symphony No. 18; Comedy Overture – The Jolly Miller

Marat Bisengaliev/BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Lionel Friend

NAXOS 8.557775 [BBC Broadcasting House, Glasgow, January 1993 - 55 mins]

For a planned music-free holiday in Switzerland (but q.v. how it turned out!) I packed at the last minute just three CDs, and played them repeatedly; one usually has not enough time to do so. This proved interesting and rewarding in each case (Berwald, Vierne & Brian).

Havergal Brian (1876-1972) wrote his Violin Concerto in 1934-35 and, as with his numerous symphonies, some of them (e.g. The Gothic Naxos 8.223280-281 - massive and for huge forces) it has never become established in the repertoire. This disc is a Marco Polo re-release; statistically, it is likely that re-releases will be more rewarding than the latest hyped ephemera ! The concerto was first performed in 1969, a time when tonal music was out of fashion. Malcolm MacDonald provides its history (manuscript lost and recomposed) which I will not duplicate.

The violin concerto is a big boned work in the traditional three movements, the central one a moving passacaglia (c.f. Shostakovich's first). It needs re-hearing for assimilation, there are 'tunes' aplenty but no easy comforting repetition. Bisengaliev makes light of obviously extreme difficulties and the balance engineers have produced a natural sound tapestry, without the spotlighting which so often ruins recorded concertos. The music's moods change in a way which owes more to life than to schematic design; I guess that Brian, like some novelists, allowed his music to take its own paths as he composed, rather than by detailed pre-planning (as did, e.g. Panufnik). I became increasingly convinced during my week living with this CD that Brian's violin concerto is one of the very finest and, given the resources of the BBC, it should become regularly exposed until, perhaps, it insidiously begins to takes its rightful place amongst the great violin concertos internationally.

The fill-ups are both well chosen; the attractive overture has variations on The Miller of Dee and the 18th Symphony (1961) is compact, written for normal sized orchestra of the time - 'concise, sardonic, driven' (Malcolm MacDonald, whose notes are helpfully sign-posted with track numbers).

Recommended most strongly.

° See fuller reviews by my namesake and JF on MusicWeb

° Havergal Brian Society's website

© Peter Grahame Woolf