Tony Rowe

Brian: Symphony No. 2; Festival Fanfare

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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson

Following his stupefyingly huge Symphony No. 1 in D minor, "The Gothic" (which is famous and infamous for being the most massively scored symphony in history), Havergal Brian's immense Symphony No. 2 in E minor seems quite modest in comparison and almost reasonably laid out, though it was composed for a full-size post-Romantic orchestra and lasts on average 53 minutes. It has the standard four movements and seems quite restrained as Brian's early symphonies go, but this is still a difficult work to get through, thanks to its heavy textures, vagueness of purpose, and profoundly brooding character. While this 1996 performance by Tony Rowe and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra (previously released on Marco Polo) has sufficient clarity, depth, and energy to make things interesting some of the time, the dense harmonies, meandering melodies, subdued interludes, and inconsequential developmental sections overwhelm their best efforts and make this music hard to digest. There are occasional bright spots of sweet lyricism that may evoke Anton Bruckner, lush episodes that suggest the influence of Richard Strauss, and neurotic passages that may bring Gustav Mahler to mind. But the diffuse and mismatched materials seem organized merely by whim, not by formal necessity, and the overall effect of this dark, rambling work is not of Brucknerian sweetness, Straussian languor, or Mahlerian hysteria, but of mind-boggling confusion, due solely to its composer's inability to rein in his myriad ideas. Introducing the symphony on this disc is the very short Festival Fanfare for brass, a piece of such concision and simplicity that it points up the excesses of the main work on the program. This recording is highly recommended for hardcore Brian devotées, but others may find it a tough slog and easy to skip.

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