Havergal Brian’s extraordinary late creativity is almost unparalleled in musical history. Between the completion of Symphony No. 6 in 1948 and the end of his compositional life two decades later he wrote 26 symphonies. No. 6 marks a crucial point in his adoption of more concise forms and economy of expression in its single-movement span, a process taken even further in the brief but free polyphonic fantasia of No. 31. In Symphonies Nos. 28 and 29 Brian turned to the classical four-movement model but one which is wholly and idiosyncratically re-imagined. The intensity and even savagery of No. 28 is balanced by No. 29, Brian’s most lyrical late work.
Though one could quibble with this detail of articulation or that detail of phrasing, one could not convincingly assert that the performances of Mozart's symphonies No. 29, No. 31, No. 32, No. 35, and No. 36 with Charles Mackerras leading the Scottish Chamber Orchestra are anything short of superlative. They famously recorded these same works for Telarc 20 years ago in performances that were hailed as a masterful meeting of conductor and orchestra, and the intervening years have only deepened the relationship, resulting in performances that shine and sparkle, as well as probe and ponder. With all repeats intact, the works here are much longer than usual, but the energy and spirit Mackerras and the Scottish musicians bring to the music makes their performances seem not a note too long.
This DVD is a fascinating document of a great conductor and orchestra playing two of the most underrated of Shostakovich's symphonies in 1985 and 1986 concerts in Vienna's Musikverein.