Brian: Symphony No. 1 in D minor (Gothic)

COMPOSERS: Brian
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Brian
WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in D minor (Gothic)
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano), Peter Auty (tenor), Alastair Miles (bass), David Goode (organ); The Bach Choir; BBC National Chorus of Wales; Brighton Festival Chorus etc al.; BBC NOW; BBC Concert Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67971/2

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Given the colossal forces required to perform Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony, and the rarity of performances as a result, it has done rather well with recordings. The good news is that this one, recorded live during last year’s BBC Proms, is the best yet. There’s an ongoing buzz of Proms atmosphere that grips from start to finish; and the recorded sound succeeds phenomenally at somehow fitting Brian’s hugest climaxes alongside the delicate scoring of other passages into a convincing perspective. Under Brabbins’s forthright direction, even the work’s poorer passages (and whatever Brian’s fanatical supporters say, there are plenty) don’t sprawl, while the best (there are plenty of those too) surge with superb orchestral playing right across the board. All four soloists excel at seizing the moment in their few, but spectacular opportunities. The Symphony’s culminating three-movement Te Deum setting makes serious demands on the enormous choral line-up required (here about 600 singers). It’s fair to say that some of the entries in the impressive, but very demanding ‘Judex crederis esse venturus’ fifth movement sound a little approximate at times. But such moments are well outnumbered by those where everyone is thrillingly singing their hearts out. Memorable listening indeed.

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Malcolm Hayes