Wednesday, December 13, 2017

English suites no. 14

This, after Hubert Parry's, is the English Suite I started this series in order to include. It's Havergal Brian's English Suite No. 1 (1904).

Brian (1876-1972) was one of the great eccentrics of English music, living to a great age and writing crabbed and difficult music nearly to the very end. Some of this music is great, some of it is hot air, some of it is vitamin pills. But only for a brief period in his youth did he write music that is also tuneful and enjoyable, and this suite is basically it. (His successor English Suites are not of the same caliber.)

The key to Brian's style as evidenced here is an unexpected wit turning up in the form of abrupt and startling shifts of mood, key, or dynamics, which combine with a colorful and sentimental Englishness to make the music sound like the work of some demented Elgar.

I love this suite, but for many years the only recording available was by a school orchestra that just wasn't up to the demands. I was so happy when a competent professional performance came out, and here it is:

The six movements are: Characteristic March (0.00), Valse (4.48), Under the Beech Tree (10.03, continuing without break), Interlude (13.32), Hymn (15.45), Carnival (19.35).

The Carnival is in turn divided into continuous sections: Introduction (19.35), The Dancers (20.02), Punch and Judy (20.45), The Sleeping Beauty (21.44), Fat Woman (23.28), Finale (24.12).

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