3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Probably the most definitive version we can expect,
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This review is from: Brian: Symphony No. 1 The Gothic (HYPERION CDA67971/2) (Audio CD)I wrote a review for the Naxos version of Havergal Brian: Symphony No. 1 'The Gothic' a year or so back, when I gave it five stars, as the only version of this magnificent symphonic juggernaut then available. I made clear that the stars were for the symphony and not for the recording which, despite the spirited performance, was rather marred by an acoustic entirely inappropriate to such an immense distribution of forces. This new version from the BBC, under Brabbins is streets ahead in fidelity, in particular the resolution required to make sense of Brian's intricate polyphony, making the fourfold difference in price immaterial. While I appreciate Naxos for keeping some version of this criminally neglected masterpiece in the public domain, no one approaching this work should think twice about choosing this version over the Naxos. Given the logistics involved in assembling and rehearsing the forces involved here (one hesitates to think what it cost the BBC), then it could be quite some time before anyone else makes the attempt.
This is one of the jewels in the crown of British music, indeed, some might argue of music, period. The 8'40" of rapturous applause at the end of disc two, still going strong as it fades out, gives hope that this treasure has been rescued from oblivion, and restored to its rightful place in our cultural heritage. For those unfamiliar with the work then the easiest comparison must be with Vaughan Williams, but not in a derivative sense, but rather as a co-interpreter of the same Zeigeist. This is Vaughan Williams writ large on steroids. I'm not sure that VW ever wove quite such intricate contrapuntal textures, literally smashed orchestras together to see what bits would come flying out, or fathom such extremities of joy and barbarity. Comparisons might also be made with the universality of Mahler and the architectonic grandeur of Bruckner. There are places here that anticipate the a-capella micropolyphony of Ligeti, and the brazen arrogance or lumbering terrors deployed by Britten in his War Requiem. That some part of what is addressed by the symphony is the Great War, and the prospect of hope and renewal ahead, is difficult to doubt.
If you, like me, are a sucker, for the impossibly grand, the hyperbolically inflated, or the shamelessly extravagant then these discs will be for you. If you yearn for music on scales even larger than the likes of Mahler or Bruckner could contemplate, then this is the symphony of symphonies, the death roar of Romanticism, and a place of homecoming for the awe-struck soul.