- Symphony No. 4 for soprano, chorus & orchestra, "Das Siegeslied"
- Symphony No. 12
The contrast between Havergal Brian's "Symphony No. 4, Das Siegeslied" (Psalm of Victory) (1932-1933) and his "Symphony No. 12" (1957) is striking, insofar as the former represents the composer's tendency toward post-Romantic gigantism, while the latter is practically a suite in miniature form, reflecting the influence of modernism. This Naxos album, a reissue of a 1992 release on Marco Polo, is a good test case for listeners new to Brian's music because it points up the extremes of his musical rhetoric and is a fair overview that doesn't hide less attractive features of his work. Yes, the "Symphony No. 4" is a rather grotesque, militaristic paean to Old Testament vengeance and German bombast, and its massed choirs and enormous orchestra may bring to mind Mahler's "Symphony of a Thousand," though it has little of that work's profundity and ecstasy. Yet even though Brian extols Macht und Kraft (might and power) in this sprawling setting in German of Psalm 68 -- composed in the years that marked the rise of the Third Reich -- it is doubtful that he advocated fascism; and his tribute to Teutonic music, such as it is, is rather a mixed bag, including much pastoral music in Vaughan Williams' familiar style, hushed chorales that suggest Victorian religiosity more than Nazi vulgarity, and some dense, dissonant passages that could have been deemed "decadent" had the work been performed within earshot of Joseph Goebbels. However, if Brian's excesses turn you off, at least give the "Symphony No. 12" a try, for it is much more manageable in its condensed form, spare in its textures, and appealing in its focused colors -- altogether, a much lighter and more palatable piece than its predecessor; and even though it is also scored for a massive orchestra, it has many sections that resemble chamber music. The Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra under Adrian Leaper turns in impressive performances of both works, and the sound is fine with only a few murky places.