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Havergal Brian – The Complete Songbook, Volume I

Three for Contralto or Baritone Op 6; Little Sleeper Op13a; John Dowland’s Fancy; Three Contemporary Songs; Legend for Violin and Piano; Three Elizabethan Songs; Three Unison Songs; Three Illuminations; Soliloquy Upon a Dead Child; Three Songs for Tenor

Mark Stone – baritone
Jonathan Stone – violin
Sholto Kynoch – piano

Stone Records 506019278154

Havergal Brian’s life spanned almost a century and his output of music was of legendary proportion (there are more than thirty symphonies alone) most of it preserved.

Perhaps it is bewilderment at the sheer volume available that has deterred more frequent performance and his songs in particular have been almost completely neglected.

This commendable CD, the first of a projected full edition, does much to redress the situation.  Brian’s songs date almost exclusively from the first half of his life, within the time span 1900-1926 and owe something to the legacy of Elgar and Sullivan

Familiar poets are well represented - Shakespeare, Donne, Kingsley, Tennyson – with the deceptively simple trio of songs for children and a resounding finale to Love’s Labours Lost demonstrating Brian’s wide range.  Arguably he responds best to the words of his contemporaries. Whilst very different in character, his settings of Richard Le Gallienne’s Little Sleeper and C M Masterson’sThe Soul of Steel are to my mind the finest songs in this collection.

Mark Stone and Sholto Kynoch make an excellent duo and their performance of these songs is both intelligent and sympathetic.  A selection of solo piano works have been included as well as the charming Legend for Violin and Piano.

The same care and attention to detail has been taken in compiling the booklet with full texts and comprehensive notes.  Whilst it is never going to make the classical charts, this recording is admirable in every way and will repay exploration.

Serena Fenwick

See also Brian (Cook/Vignoles)