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Brian: Faust

Peter Hoare, David Soar, Allison Cook et al; Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera/Martyn Brabbins (Dutton Epoch)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Peter Hoare, David Soar, Allison Cook, William Morgan, Robert Hayward, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, Simon Bailey, David Ireland, Katie Coventry, Nicholas Lester, Clare Presland, Claire Mitcher; Chorus & Orchestra of English National Opera/Martyn Brabbins
Dutton Epoch 2CDLX 7385 (CD/SACD)   135:22 mins (2 discs)


It remains an utterly remarkable fact that Havergal Brian, whose career began quite promisingly, managed to continue to produce so much music over the later decades when his output was totally neglected. One of five operas, Faust was written in 1955-56 and sets his own reduction of Goethe’s text in the original German. This recording represents its world premiere.

In a prologue and two acts, the opera is a remarkable achievement. In terms of style, John Pickard is surely correct to identify in his programme note a kinship with the Hindemith of Mathis der Maler; other than that, the regularly dark, often thick scoring possesses a kind of rough grandeur that has its own integrity. The result is consistently impressive.

For various reasons, including its own reluctance to go anywhere near showbiz (which a number of other Faust settings profitably have), it is unlikely to gain wide popularity; but it is nonetheless a major achievement, and both Dutton and the performers, notably Martyn Brabbins – a loyal Brian champion, here conducting his own ENO forces – have put listeners in their debt. Their recording demands attention.

The central roles are all well done. Tenor Peter Hoare summons up the entire range and expressive variety required for Faust. David Soar’s voluminous bass-baritone enables him to go right down into the vocal depths of Mephistopheles. Mezzo-soprano Allison Cook brings certainty and determination to her impassioned Gretchen. In secondary roles, baritone Nicholas Lester epitomises the bluff, aggressive soldier Valentin, while bass-baritone Simon Bailey registers powerful presence as the Evil Spirit.


George Hall