It's sometimes said with a wry smile that Havergal Brian gave British composers a bad name when it came to writing symphonies and looking at the evidence there may be something in that little joke!
Only Maxwell Davies, Tippett and Britten have managed to make any serious inroads onto the international scene in the last 60 years and many fine works have simply disappeared after their first performance.
Lyrita have attempted to rebalance the equation with this 4 CD compilation of some of the best symphonies written by British composers over the last 140 years and there are some surprises along the way.
First off is the G minor work by Sterndale Bennett who was principal of the Royal Academy of Music and a close friend of Mendelssohn and this brisk and energetic symphony owes much to the Mendelssohn tradition. The 1st symphonies of Bax and Cyril Rootham both offer strong mastery of the form and having never heard of Rootham before I was disappointed that he only wrote one and died before completing his 2nd in 1938.
Rubbra and Rawsthorne are represented by the 4th symphony and the Symphonic Studies both works of inspiration and style.
My favourite of all these offerings is the 3rd Symphony of Lennox Berkeley , a one movement work of great invention and truly original orchestral colouring worth exploring.
On disc 4 the 2nd symphony of Humphrey Searle is also a revelation to me and clearly shows the influence of his teacher Webern without taking away any of the works originality.
William Alwyn and Malcolm Arnold are more well known and there is an interesting work from Grace Williams a Welsh composer and resident who again deserves more appreciation.
William Wordsworth and John Joubert complete the collection with Joubert being the only living composer presented and all the performances are played by the LPO, LSO, RPO and Philharmonia orchestras giving fine and detailed performances which Lyrita have captured with vivid recordings.
This repertoire won't be available for ever and the 4 CD set is an important statement about the development of the English symphony from 1864 to 1973.