Review of Hull Youth SO recording

Lewis Foreman

The City of Hull Youth SO recording reviewed - Lewis Foreman HAVERGAL BRIAN ORCHESTRAL WORKS: VOL 3_. Burlesque variations on an original theme_; Requiem for the rose; The hag. City of Hull Youth Symphony Orchestra, St Nicholas Singers, conducted by Geoffrey Heald-Smith. Cameo Classics GOCLP 9014.

… I have wondered about the Burlesque variations ever since the score was re-discovered, and indeed considered it for Leslie Head and the Kensington Symphony Orchestra, but rejected it on grounds of difficulty, both of individual parts and ensemble, and for its lack of gripping personality, both thematically and stylistically. (For good amateur or semi-professional orchestras there are still Brian discoveries awaiting them, if they are interested - notably the orchestral suite Malcolm MacDonald has culled from the opera Turandot - while the Third English suite is typical of Brian in its language and invention, yet effective in the hands of this sort of orchestra, as the KSO demonstrated in 1971.)

However, to someone long enthralled by Brian, and particularly his early musical development, this is a very interesting record. The Burlesque variations are remarkably assured, though perhaps too heavily orchestrated - the texture could benefit from the application of Stanford‘s famous eraser, particularly the wind. Passing fingerprints of Brian’s later style will be noted, particularly the fanfaring trumpets. This is a young man’s music, in that its composer tends to throw everything in - the climax of the seventh variation (Finale en form d‘overture) is an extended chorale statement of the theme on the full orchestra complete with organ, adding for the last four bars ‘all reeds and 32ft. stop’, and making a tremendously exciting din, very satisfying on this record.

The brass cope very well throughout. The strings are more variable, though they are asked to do cruelly difficult things. The fourth variation is a high spot, featuring a melodic line that is already recognizably by Brian. It is very nicely done here, and the pizzicato strings winding upward over quietly pulsing timps and cymbals - surely a pre-echo of a similar passage in Wine of summer - is well characterized. Much of the last variation, too, comes over very well, the mighty Finale en form d‘overture rising to its epic and inflated peroration is well caught and most enjoyable. Funnily enough, the brief, elegiac sixth variation, with its divided violins, and interweaving horn parts - which looks so gorgeous on paper - proves to be unexpectedly troublesome for the players.

The recorded sound, particularly of the horns and woodwind, is not forward enough for my liking - the horns in particular tending to recede into the comparative distance. As with previous records in this series I have played it on several systems - even tried reversing the channels as well as playing it in mono mode (very flattering to the strings). I liked it best over headphones. A fine pressing contributes to a worthwhile disc. All admirers of Brian have to have this record - because they have to know (as I did), what the later works came from. This performance gives a very creditable idea.

The fill-up consists of the two choral songs Requiem for the rose and The hag. These are quite acceptable performances, though the curious mixture of gossamer-Queen Mab lightness coupled with pulsing movement that gives The hag its character is not completely caught.

NL 39 / © Lewis Foreman 1982

Newsletter, NL 39, 1982