Brian: Four Miniatures; Double Fugue in E flat; Three Illuminations

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COMPOSERS: Brian
LABELS: Athene
WORKS: Four Miniatures; Double Fugue in E flat; Three Illuminations
PERFORMER: Raymond Clarke (piano), Esther King (mezzo-soprano), Tessa Spong (speaker)
CATALOGUE NO: ATH CD 12
Havergal Brian’s piano output is small, but certainly distinctive. Two works from the period of his war opera The Tigers have vocal affinities. The Illuminations (1916), three bizarrely satirical pieces for speaker and piano, can also be performed without voice. In this intelligent Athene recital both versions are given, as well as three powerful Blake songs from 1919, two of which were arranged as movements of the four Miniatures. Purely as piano pieces they show Brian exploring an odd, elliptical but desolately evocative form of home-grown Expressionism.

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Sometimes calm, sometimes abrasive, the fugal works (c1924) were conceived as studies for the Gothic Symphony. The Double Fugue, almost a single-movement sonata in fugal style, notated on four staves throughout, is a polyphonic tour de force. All these works make considerable pianistic demands, while a little homage to John Dowland (1934) is a teaching piece of much charm.

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Raymond Clarke presents intelligent and scrupulously prepared performances, bringing out with dedication the classical clarity of thought behind his abrupt and unexpected turns of invention. The supporting artists are excellent, Athene’s recording crystalline and beautifully atmospheric. Calum MacDonald