Sunday, 22 November 2009

Havergal Brian: English Suite No.1 another contemporary review.

A few days ago I posted a mildly enthusiastic review of this piece from the Musical Times. I found another, more positive consideration in the contemporary edition of The Musical Standard. It was quoted in Reginald Netel’s Ordeal by Music and is worth re-publishing.

It was not surprising that honours fell to Mr. Havergal Brian after the performance of his English Suite at Queen's Hall Promenade Concerts on Thursday, September 12th, for it is a work of considerable interest. From the point of view of orchestral tone colour it was a triumph. His use of the orchestra is especially good, and throughout the work the varying colours of the instrumental palette were adroitly chosen and harmonized. That is an achievement in technical skill which few writers can attain; we hear so much mist and mud in modern orchestration. Neither was the scoring of this work reminiscent, it had a freshness and breezy vigour which can be broadly described as English.
In modulation, Havergal Brian brings a new touch, and in the first two movements, March and Valse, there were many striking and individual transitions. The Suite has an honest face, there are no false heroics and, heaven be thanked, no puling melancholy in this music; and humour was much in evidence in the last movement. Typifying some scene of a Carnival, this last section had a brief interpretation of a Punch and Judy show; the scoring and ideas of this section were especially amusing. The motive was scored for piccolo and side drum, and this led to the theme of "God Save the King" scored for muted trumpet and trombones. The mere association of (carnival-like) loyalty with a Punch and Judy show is just a stroke of bombast of which English people are truly capable; it is a motive suited to the brain and pen of Bernard Shaw or Chesterton, and would set either of them off on a play or a paragraph. I am wondering whether Brian is a satirist at heart, or whether he only sets out to chronicle.


On the whole, this work of Brian's is a worthy contribution to our British school. The composer achieves what he sets out to do. It is not a subjective work, but more a musical transcription of an English country fair, and must be judged from that standpoint. The music, except in a few places as in the third movement, Love under the Beech Tree, has that objective non-introspective quality which is so much a feature of our times; although one cannot say that the thematic material strikes very newly upon the ear, there is yet a personality in the work.

Mr. Henry J. Wood took a tremendous interest in its interpretation. and it was very evident that his orchestra enjoyed their labours; for, after all, it is something to an orchestral player that his work counts, that the characteristics of his instrument are not overlooked, or "crowded out", and in this particular work the orchestral tints gleamed -that is the word-and the various groups of tone, strings, wood, brass, percussion, were each excellently written for.
Every discovery of musical creative talent is important to our countrymen because it is only by an overwhelming army of talented and diverse abilities that the many hindrances to our musical life can be overcome. The public, the publishers, the performers, the press will all respond to an inevitable fact, they always do, since they deal in inevitable facts. We have chosen, for constitutional purposes, the majority shall decide, they do both in civil and impolite matters, also in music; all we can do is to transform lassitude and indifference into enthusiasm and vitality. Creative minds alone can arrange the transformation, they always were the world's ransomers; yet between them and their ideals is ranged an unproductive and negative force. The creative gift is a natural force, the only one which the world denies existence to.
The Musical Standard October 2007[with minor edits]

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