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Havergal Brian - Gothic Symphony

Jenisova, Peckova, Dolezal, Mikulas Slovak Opera Chorus Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Ondrej Lenard

Naxos 8.223280-281

A limited "slipcase edition" of this elderly recording still in the Naxos catalogue (to their credit, they don't go in for deleting) has been sensibly and opportunely released in time for the performance of the Gothic Symphony scheduled to open The Proms later this month.

The BBC, in its wisdom, has cut down drastically on reviews of its concerts (apparently favouring the dwindling paper press outlets over "websites and blogs") and they are not inviting us to cover The Proms this year (nor have they for the first time in a decade supplied Musical Pointers with a Proms programme, suggesting that they do not even want coverage of the broadcasts & telecasts).

So I take this opportunity to remind them, and our readers, of my proposal when I reviewed the discs in the early 2000s.

My extensive review then dealt with the making of the recording, and also with studies by Harold Truscott and Paul Rapaport [The Havergal Brian Society].

Because of the daunting financial implications, I suggested then that conductor Gilbert Kaplan, who had strided the world with his obsession with the 2nd Symphony of Mahler, the composer who had "believed the symphony should encompass the whole world", might consider diverting his attention and his wealth to Brian's sprawling masterwork?

Whilst Mahler 8 might be tempting next for a conductor who thinks very big, the novelty and mono-mania of devotion solely to one chosen composer might pall, and Havergal Brian [pictured at 90, 1966) might fill the bill instead?

I feared that without some special initiative, and left to normal promotional finances, Brian might remain indefinitely a marginal figure on the sidelines, one of 'spasmodic interest'.

Well, a sold-out BBC Proms airing of Brian's Gothic Symphony next Sunday, 17 July, is a great opportunity and should at the least boost sales of the Naxos discs for those at the Albert Hall, but will it change the composer's posthumous fortunes in the longer term? Most likely not.

For the rest of us, this forthcoming performance under Martyn Brabbins will bring The Gothic under the radar once again, whether experienced live or on BBC Television, where I had looked forward to seeing and hearing it at home with up to date equipment and on a large screen.

What a wasted opportunity that it is not being televised by the BBC... Will it, at the least, be filmed for possible future DVD? There isn't one yet and Brian's devoted fans must hope so.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Sample the Gothic Symphony on YouTube and read thoughtful and comprehensive reviews by Richard Whitehouse and on conductor Kenneth Woods' blog.