Review of RLPO/Mackerras premiere and recording

David J Brown

Royal Liverpool PO:Mackerras premiere and recording - David J Brown For myself, I am not at all sure that this wasn’t simply the finest performance of any Brian work I have heard anywhere since I began listening to him. Indeed, if all the performances there have been had equalled Sir Charles Mackerras and the RLPO’s account of the Seventh Symphony in intensity and conviction I really don’t think there would be any kind of ‘Brian problem’ for the composer to be defended against. Even the newspaper reviews were far less hostile than they usually are.

The reason why it was so good is simple — apart from the fact that all concerned were first-class professional musicians: the grant from the RVW Trust for the performance (as distinct from our sponsorship of the recording) allowed extra rehearsal time. For once, one of Brian’s works received the sort of detailed preparation which every one of then desperately needs in order to make its full effect — in other words, so that it sounded natural and right.

The audience reaction at the end was unmistakably enthusiastic; definitely the best for any Brian work apart from The Gothic. Godfrey Berry had his ears wide open for remarks afterwards, and caught ‘When was the last time we had a pleasant surprise like this? Was it the Shostakovich’ in the hall. On the way out another audience member delivered him(or her)self of the opinion that ‘the music was much better after the interval’, while at the Central Station one lady unburdened herself of ‘What a surprise! When they said it was the work of a 72 year old writing in 1948 I thought I knew what to expect. But it would have been more believable as the work of a 48 year old writing in 1972!’

It was a great pleasure also to see so many HBS members there. With the addition of Malcolm MacDonald’s pre-concert talk, it was indeed a memorable day for all of us.

After such a thorough preparation, it was not a surprise, though still a relief, to witness the EMI recording sessions being so successful. The only slight hitch occurred virtually at the outset. A few minutes of the first movement were in the can by 3 pm on Sunday 3 May (the sessions were in the afternoon and evening that day), when the distant thud of a rock band winding up began to be heard from outside the Philharmonic Hall. The ‘Hands across Britain’ demonstration in support of the unemployed turned out to he having its starting point exactly opposite, with the aforesaid band providing the send-off. Hurried consultations revealed that all would be over in half an hour, and Sir Charles used the time for a preliminary runthrough of Symphony No 31. No 7’s first movement was completed in this session, and the long and difficult third movement was similarly got down during the evening. The following morning’s session went so well that the whole of the Seventh Symphony was completed by lunchtime.

The smooth running continued with the 13 minute 31st symphony virtually completed by the last mid-session break. With one hour to go Sir Charles and the orchestra addressed themselves to the third work for which material was on hand in case there was time — the Comedy Overture The Tinker’s Wedding composed immediately before the Seventh Symphony in 1948. It was rehearsed and recorded from scratch with exactly one minute to spare at the end — a tribute not only to the marvellous musicianship of Sir Charles and the RLPO, but also the utterly professional working partnership of producer Andrew Keener and engineer Mike Clements. Also, I must acknowledge the enthusiastic cooperation of the RLPO Administrator Andrew Burn, who could not have done more to make us foreigners welcome and engineer the smooth running of the whole project. Does Liverpool realise how lucky it is?

At the time of writing (late June 1987) our sponsorship of £13,000 [donated by the Rex Foundation – JRM] has been paid, the master tape is in the process of editing, the front sleeve illustration has been provisionally selected and the notes have been commissioned from Malcolm MacDonald. Bearing in mind that this is one of 400 releases scheduled from EMI, of which editing still awaits on quite a few, it will be a while before the recording (compact and black discs and cassette) appears. I think there can be little doubt that it will be the best—recorded, most perceptively conducted and most expertly played Brian record yet to appear, as well as being unquestionably the one with the longest playing time.

It will justify every penny of our £13,000, and every minute of our long wait for it.

NL 71 / © David J Brown

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