Review By Steve Schwartz, ClassicalCDReview.com,June 2011
Giant. British composer Havergal Brian left a significant body of work, including a cycle of 32 symphonies, which hardly anyone but specialists knows. During his very long life (nearly 97 years), he gained the support of such figures as Elgar, Delius, Bantock, Vaughan Williams, Ernest Newman, and Robert Simpson, the last of whom helped illuminate him briefly on the general listener’s radar screen. Certainly, Simpson turned me on to Brian during the Sixties and Seventies through articles, liner notes, and getting up actual performances on BBC Radio. Yet, if we consider the quality of Brian’s music, we can’t say he’s yet gotten his due. Here, after all, is Elgar’s heir, among other things. Bad luck plagued him most of his life. Born in grinding
Brian’s work divides roughly into early and late. The early work is big and Romantic; the late terse and thoroughly modern. This CD features scores from both periods.
If Brian has a fault, it’s his tendency to stuff his work full of too many wonderful things. I can’t think of a truly light piece. For Valour suffers from this. It’s an Elgarian overture—similar to something like Froissart or In the South. Ideas burst from it in confusing profusion. There are, for example, not one, not two, but three multi-thematic subject groups, and they’re freely mixed in the development. This takes, at least, great skill, but a listener may have to listen to it many, many times before it begins to make sense. Fortunately, Naxos has divided the overture into subtracks, and Brian maven Malcolm McDonald has provided terrific liner notes geared to those tracks. Most of the overture is either contemplative or grand, but it also contains sommore....