Royal Academy of Music Students’ Orchestra

Havergal Brian

Selected and annotated by Malcolm MacDonald

The students’ orchestral concerts never fail to elicit sympathy or excite praise. Sir Henry Wood is at his best when handling the gargantuan orchestra of young players. The free, smart bowing of the strings and the clean phrasing of the wind created a most satisfying impression, and testified to Sir Henry’s excellent method of training. Saint-Saëns’s setting of Psalm XIX, for four baritones and orchestra was an unfamiliar item: facility of invention, with bright, sumptuous scoring are never lacking in this French master’s music. This psalm, like his oratorio, The deluge, is evidence of little more than a really accomplished musician. The first movement of Brahms’s Double Concerto in A minor produced some excellent qualities of orchestral nuance: the refined chamberesque style of the two young soloists was too intimate for the Brahms Concerto. The orchestra got its chance in the first symphony of Sibelius: an extraordinarily dramatic and dynamic insight made a striking picture of the first movement,— the finest piece of symphonic music Sibelius has written1; Mary Genn-Williams sang the Air de Salome from Massenet's Herodiade with the ease and assurance of an expert opera singer: she received a well-deserved ovation.

  1. A somewhat surprising verdict from a fellow-symphonist: but there are numerous indications in his writings that Brian respected rather than loved the later Sibelius symphonies - despite Sibelius being such an enthusiasm of his friend Bantock - and most enjoyed No 1 ↩︎

On the other hand, by La main gauche

Musical opinion, January 1935, p. 333