Monday, July 18, 2011

Prom 3 Review

Brian: Symphony No. 1 in D minor, 'The Gothic'
Susan Gritton (soprano)
Christine Rice (mezzo-soprano)
Peter Auty (tenor)
Alastair Miles (bass)
CBSO Youth Chorus
Eltham College Boys' Choir
Southend Boys' and Girls' Choirs
Bach Choir
BBC National Chorus of Wales
Brighton Festival Chorus
Côr Caerdydd
Huddersfield Choral Society
London Symphony Chorus
BBC Concert Orchestra
BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Martyn Brabbins (conductor)


Never have so many gone to so much effort for so little reward. Havergal Brian's Gothic Symphony is, literally, a Symphony of a Thousand. Two orchestras, four brass bands, six choruses, four youth choruses and four soloists. The total count must have been well over a thousand performers for this legendary curate's egg.

Perhaps one day Havergal Brian's time will come, just as Mahler's did. But I doubt it. This is everything Mahler used to be accused of being: long-winded, pointless loudness, rambling without end, no discernible sense of form and no building of tension. It is just one long trip through nearly two hours of musical static. There is no point to this music except for its enormity.

The failure must, almost entirely, lie at the door of the composer. Martyn Brabbins must be praised for an enormous feat of coordination. The orchestras sounded impressively prepared, the choruses coped mightily in Royal Albert's cavernous acoustic to listen to one another and stay on-key (not always successfully). They deserve the satisfaction of having put this piece on. Let it now stay in the vault for another generation to re-air it, and hopefully be less disappointed by the results than we are.

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