Brian: Symphonies Nos 7 and 16; The Tinker's Wedding: Overture

Reviewed on Fri 07 Jun, 2019

A turning point in Brian’s symphonic language in 1960, the Sixteenth is a single-movement work cast for large orchestra, whose knotty, tight textures are spun out with savage vehemence.

Alexander Walker’s survey of Havergal Brian’s symphonies with the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra is shaping up to be an invaluable series. Not yet half-way through the tally of 32, this fourth instalment includes the Goethe-inspired C major Seventh and compact, clenched fist that is the Sixteenth. A turning point in Brian’s symphonic language in 1960, the Sixteenth is a single-movement work cast for large orchestra – quadruple woodwind and trumpets, six horns, 10 percussionists – whose knotty, tight textures are spun out with savage vehemence in what John Pickard’s excellent booklet notes describe as “wild flights of colouristic tendency”. Caught between the past and the present, the freer, more fluid, four-movement Seventh Symphony feels over-extended, despite committed playing from the formidable Russian orchestra. Also from 1948 is the bright, brilliant, characterfully realised Overture to JM Synge’s comic play The Tinker’s Wedding. If Walker rounds off some of Brian’s rougher edges throughout, these are fine performances nonetheless, vividly recorded.
–Michael Quinn