Brian: Festal Dance; Symphonies Nos 5, 19 & 27

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LABELS: Dutton Epoch
WORKS: Festal Dance; Symphonies Nos 5 (Wine of Summer), 19 & 27
PERFORMER: Roderick Williams (baritone), Katherine Bryan (flute); Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Martyn Brabbins


The third in Dutton’s series devoted to Havergal Brian begins in the paddling pool with the compact gusto of the 1908 Festal Dance, remnant of his withdrawn Fantastic Symphony. Then we’re plunged into the wild rough seas of a British composer who manages to fascinate and baffle at exactly the same time. Symphonies Nos 19 and 27, from the 1960s, share the terse, kaleidoscopic textures typical of Brian in extreme old age. Martyn Brabbins and his Scottish forces pounce on every glinting detail and quirk, through flute meanderings, punctured marches and beatific visions to the xylophone’s skeleton dance.

There’s a suitably liquid flow about the 1937 Wine of Summer, Brian’s verdant if eccentric setting of a woozy poem from the 1890s by Oscar Wilde’s beloved, Lord Alfred Douglas. Roderick Williams squeezes every lyrical drop from the sometimes arid vocal line, though it’s the orchestral details that grab the ear as the poet lies in his midsummer wood, contemplating bees, brier roses, and old loves that used to burn ‘like fierce red kings’. Fruity stuff, and like all Brian’s orchestral music it’s in need of an acoustic to match. Unfortunately, for these mostly pioneering recordings, the RSNO has to beaver away inside a shallow, airless box.


Geoff Brown