The name Havergal Brian may not ring a lot of bells these days. But during his lifetime (1876-1972) he was one of the most prolific British composers of the 20th century. With some 32 symphonies to his credit – most of them, large sprawling works. The problem was, throughout most of his life, his music was never performed. And it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that he was “discovered” and his music began to be performed and word of this extraordinary, yet completely overlooked figure came to light. Unfortunately, during his lifetime, he barely got to hear premiers of his works, and none of his works were available commercially until after his death in 1972.
This performance, announced by the BBC as Symphony Number 5, is actually Symphony Number 4, and was given its world premier performance on a broadcast from July 3, 1967. Like most of Brian’s symphonies, it’s neo-Romantic and gargantuan in scale. It has strong leanings towards Mahler and is epic in its grandeur. Brian began composing it in 1932 and completed it in 1933. For this premier broadcast, The BBC Northern Symphony is joined by Honor Sheppard, Soprano along with the Halifax Choral Society and the Leeds Philharmonic Choir, all conducted by Maurice Handford.
There was, I believe, a bootleg of this performance making its way around collectors circles in the early 1970s. It never got circulated to any great degree and the 1974 performance wound up issued on Aries Records for the first time.
Since the flurry of recognition of Havergal Brian, culminating in his death in 1972, interest in his work has tapered off considerably. Because of the size of his works, they are almost never performed and most of the commercially available recordings have gone out of print over the years.
But as a reminder of the mania surrounding Havergal Brian in the 1950 and 1960′ , here is that initial performance of the Symphony Number 4, as it was given its premier over the BBC on July 3, 1967.