Alexander Walker / Novaya Rossiya State Symphony Orchestra

Havergal Brian: Symphonies Nos. 6, 28, 29 and 31

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Havergal Brian's record of late-life creativity is probably unparalleled, with 20 of his 32 symphonies having been completed after he reached the age of 80. Three of the works heard on this Naxos release, in fact, date from Brian's early nineties, and one, the Symphony No. 28 of 1967, was given its premiere by the nonagenarian Leopold Stokowski. Brian's music is sui generis. After composing the two-hour, thousand-performer Symphony No. 1 in D minor ("Gothic") in the 1920s, he turned to an extremely concentrated style in his late years and continued to refine it. His music has been likened to that of Mahler, Wagner, and Bax, and indeed it contains ingredients drawn from all of these, but they are boiled down to a series of brief gestures. Many people find the constant flow of ideas in his music a bit random, but he has a core of entranced devotees ready to put up money for recordings like this one. With conductor Alexander Walker and the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra they got their money's worth. The Russian group clearly handles the dense succession of brass and wind ideas in Brian's music, and Walker gets its rather uncanny feeling of riverine motion, something like what might have happened if Sibelius during his last year had accepted modern harmonic trends. Especially interesting are the Symphony No. 28 and Symphony No. 29, each written in four movements that reveal traces of traditional symphonic form but treat it with complete freedom. The Russian State TV and Radio studio sound is another plus. This is a good place to start for those curious about Brian's unique output.

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