Here again at last is the first fully professional recording of the music of Havergal Brian: Myer Fredman and the London Philharmonic's Lyrita coupling of his Sixth and Sixteenth symphonies. When first released on LP in 1973, listeners did not know what to make of it. And who can blame them? A protégée of Elgar and contemporary of Vaughan Williams, Brian's music sounds like nothing else in English music, or in any other music, for that matter. Tonally oriented, Brian's music is relentlessly contrapuntal. Colossally scored, Brian's music is interrupted by flashes of intense silence. Dramatically motivated, Brian's music is shattered by moments of total stasis. Though some listeners found it uncompromising and incomprehensible, others found his Sixth as compelling a work as had been composed in the genre since the death of Mahler and his Sixteenth as unique a work as had ever been composed by anybody ever.
Reissued here on CD coupled with Nicholas Braithwaite's recording of Arnold Cooke's Third Symphony, Fredman's Brian performances still sound great. How he could possibly have known how Brian goes is anyone's guess, but go Brian's music does in these performances. Fredman controls not only the three movements in one form of the Sixth, but the six movements in one form of the Sixteenth by keeping close watch on tempo relationships and by never losing concentration no matter how convoluted the musical argument. With the London Philharmonic's first-rate playing, Fredman makes Brian's music sound absolutely inevitable and completely convincing. Assuredly not for everyone, those who do get Brian will find his music compulsive listening.
In context, Cooke's Third comes off as much more conventional. A half-hour-long, three-movement work with two fast Allegro movements enclosing an expansive Lento, Cooke's Third recalls Hindemith in its harmonic language and Walton in its rhetorical lyricism. But though more conventional, Cooke's work is still full of expressive themes, cogent forms, and persuasive forms, and Braithwaite and the London Philharmonic do the Third justice. As was standard with Lyrita, the stereo sound is clear, clean, cool, and colorful.