- Symphony No. 23
A remarkably prolific composer in his final decades, Havergal Brian wrote his "Symphonies No. 22," "No. 23," "No. 24" between 1964 and 1965, when he was in his late eighties. These are short, dense works, packed with motivically driven themes, rough-hewn harmonies, and austere counterpoint, all squeezed into single- or double-movement forms lasting less than 20 minutes. Indeed, the "Symphony No. 22" is subtitled "Symphonia brevis" because it is just over nine minutes long and extremely direct in its musical discourse. The "Symphony No. 23" is timed at 13:44, and at 16:29, the "Symphony No. 24 in D major" is the longest of the three. These works are taut essays in the British symphonic style of the mid-20th century, ultimately positive in their thrust, though their enigmatic character reflects the uncertainties of the time. Not so with the "English Suite No. 1," a post-Romantic concert work from 1905-1906 that is full of optimism and elegance, in keeping with the closing years of the Belle Époque. Alexander Walker leads the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra in these rare performances (the recordings of the "Symphony No. 23" and the "Symphony No. 24" are world premieres), and the playing is committed and energetic. Recorded in Moscow in 2012, the sound is full and clear, though not especially ingratiating because Brian's orchestration is often hard-edged and forbidding.