As a fan of the old Olaf Henzold/Lucerne Symphony recording of the Brun 2nd, I had always wondered why more of his music hadn't been recorded. Certainly that early work is a charmer, with a pastoral quality suggesting the world of the Brahms 2nd, and a beautiful adagio slow movement.
The works on this disk perhaps explain why Brun continues to be neglected--especially the Symphony No. 5, which, to put it bluntly, is poorly served by the performance of the Moscow Symphony and Adriano. This is dark, extremely chromatic and tortured music that needs precise rhythmic articulation and dynamic contrast in order to make sense at all. Instead, we are subjected to sloppy entrances, flaccid phrasing, and intonation (especially in the brass and low strings) that suggests this is more of a read-through than a sufficiently rehearsed performance. Surprising for Adriano, who has done many fine things on Marco Polo, and who along with Leon Botstein and Werner Andreas Albert never fails to unearth fascinating and neglected repertoire.
In spite of the sloppy playing and indifferent recording quality, there seemed to be enough going on in this Symphony to warrant repeated hearings. And after my 5th time through, I am happy to report that this Symphony is a lot more interesting than I first thought. It is, in fact, the most original work by Brun I have heard, and the most troubling. In this work, Brun forcibly melds the worlds of Brahms and Reger with those of Berg and Hartmann--and if the results aren't pretty, they are at least unique. The Brahmsian gestures of the Bruns 2nd Symphony are still there, but constantly undermined by relentlessly chromatic harmony, string figures woven of close intervals, and claustrophobically dark orchestrations. Combine this nightmare expressionist quality with a reliance on traditional forms such as the chaconne and the fugue, and you have something very peculiar indeed--a kind of self-annihlating Symphony, in which Brun suggests the fundamental incompatibility of the new musical "reality" of Schoenberg with the expressive tradition of which he felt himself to be both inheritor and guardian. After all, this is the conductor who programmed a work of Schoenberg's and preceded it quite deliberately with the Fidelio aria, "Wo eilst du hin, Abscheulicher..." (Where are you fleeing, loathsome man)?
The 10th Symphony harks back to the world of the 2nd--Brahms as updated by Reger or Schoeck--and contains many felicities and a harmonically interesting scherzo. The orchestra sounds much more polished and secure in this work, which might have something to do with the more idiomatic and natural quality of the string writing. For a valedictory work, it is neither resigned nor bitter.
I'm grateful to have this disk, in spite of its shortcomings. It's doubtful anyone else will take up the cause of Brun, and Adriano is apparently working on the whole cycle. In the case of the 5th, I think it's only fair to call the music ugly--but ugly in a completely unique and astonishing way. Having had my fill of Brahms knock-offs like Draeseke and Parry, I'm glad for the existence of this gnarled, ungainly beast which does exude sincerity and integrity.