An Australian of Dalmatian parentage, Philip Bracanin is one of Australia's greatest composers and also one of the most neglected (and not just in Australia) which like countless other cases is really quite tragic, as all of his music that I have been fortunate enough to hear is either very good or magnificent in my opinion. Stylistically I would say that his sound is not unlike some of the best that the 20th century English school of composition (Vaughan Williams & William Walton for example) has to offer, however Bracanin also composes in a thoroughly neoclassical style as well. He has written, I believe, at least 15 concertos for various instruments (not even counting two Concertos for Orchestra) at this time, 30 or so orchestral works, chamber music, song cycles, and choral music. 99% of the above mentioned is more or less unavailable. There are a couple of recordings of his concertos (superb concertos for guitar and trumpet) and a bit of chamber music-although the chamber music that was released is "very" out of print, I have the disc somewhere, must have bought it at least 20 years ago..all I remember is that it was on an Australian label, which is not really surprising. I hope everyone finds this music to be a great discovery. I know I sure did at the time!
There are so few choral symphonies that any attempt to compose one in the modern era will always invite comparison with the great works of Vaughan Williams and Gustav Mahler (whose Second Symphony, like Bracanin’s was his first "choral symphony"’). While at forty minutes it’s certainly an expansive work, the Choral symphony never conveys the impression of overstaying its welcome. As in the Third Symphony, the compositional weight is thrown into the outer movements. Bracanin chose texts from Judith Wright and W. H. Auden for a work which, in keeping with the 'philosophical' theme of most choral symphonies, centres around the contemplation and celebration of time. It’s an optimistic work in which time is hailed as a creative and liberating force, and it marks perhaps the definitive statement by the composer on a concept which has intrigued him for more than a decade.
The Choral Symphony opens atmospherically and with utmost beauty. Icy chords in the strings usher in a brief brass chorale and then the chorus's wordless entry establishes a mood of deep calm. But soon a crescendo leads to a secondary theme in which insistent motoric rhythms drive the movement on toward a trumpet fanfare and perhaps an unconscious echo of the opening of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony (Judith Wright’s contrast between the adult and childlike perception of time is perhaps another poetic idea which Mahler himself might have enjoyed). A solo soprano enters on Wright’s words "Here is the same clock", establishing an elegiac, lyrical and nakedly emotional mood which will continue for much of the remainder of the movement, the distinctive motor rhythms notwithstanding. The chorus, wordless once more, brings this inspired movement to a close.
After the stifling beauty of the opening Andante, the second movement, Allegro molto, is bright and breezy and scored for orchestra only. In an endless stream of melody (listen in particular to the modal inflections in the melody for cor anglais), the principal theme is tossed back and forth between sections of the orchestra in a movement which is as charming as it is brief.
The chorus returns in the third movement, and with them a ticking, recurrent quaver pattern that serves as an accompaniment to much of the movement as a whole. W. H. Auden’s words "going round and round" achieve the very musical effect which they describe, while the chorus closes off the movement by reminding "How wrong they are in being always right".
There is more than a hint of majesty in the choral writing in this movement, but now the grandeur of the overall conception is laid bare in the finale, explicitly marked maestoso. Here, with Judith Wright again providing the text, the praises of time are sung in the grand English choral tradition (one can imagine this kind of uplifting movement being sung at the Three Choirs Festival).
Where the choir has woven itself in and out of the Symphony to date, here it dominates the opening of the movement. A swirling theme for orchestra introduced in the strings leads to a great climax, soon after which the mood of the opening movement returns as the solo soprano offers the innocent vision "Here where I walk was the green world of a child" and the plaintive falling semitone figure which we heard in the opening movement too.
A second orchestral interlude, lighter and with jaunty little wind figures, then prepares the way for the triumphant return of the choir singing the praises of time. At its triumphant conclusion, the symphony has offered not just an affirmation of time, but of life and love too, in a way which can appeal directly to the emotions. Something of a small masterpiece to these ears!
Symphony No. 3 was composed at the invitation of conductor Werner Andreas Albert and is dedicated to him. Scored for orchestra only, the symphony is also a work of genuine appeal and it features some striking orchestral writing. Again it contains features which we have heard in the Second Symphony, including the employment of motoric rhythms and some quite distinctive writing for wind instruments.
It opens dramatically with timpani rolls and some chordal figures in the strings. The motor rhythms in quavers begin early in the piece and with themes and fragments of themes being tossed around, the large shadow of Sibelius is never far away.
But after a driving climax, suddenly a more reflective passage marked Lusingando (flatteringly, alluringly) enters on the oboe and is then taken over and shared by the other wind instruments and soon the strings. It rises to great heights of passion before subsiding back from whence it came. Keen-eared listeners may notice some affinity between the glorious string writing here and that in the final pages of Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony, although any connection I assume is unintentional.
The movement then proceeds through further rousing climaxes, distinctive 'maestoso' passages, and another sublime slower section (featuring more magnificent solo passages for wind) before drawing to an emphatic and singularly impressive conclusion, complete with exotic colourings on glockenspiel and harp.
The second movement, Andante lusingando, is particularly deeply felt, beginning with constantly changing slow rhythms which convey a sense of the melodies 'breathing'. Again we hear just a hint of Sibelian thematic fragments before a more vigorous Allegro enters abruptly and with the snare drum introducing an almost military feel to proceedings. In the middle of the movement there is (going on what I have heard in the past from the composer) a typical Bracanin device- an ostinato pattern in crotchets in the lower strings and wind which introduces a greater sense of urgency before the poignant main theme and mood of calm resignation return for the conclusion.
An upward rush in the bassoon and cello introduces the Allegro vivace, built around swirling quaver figures. Once again the glockenspiel is used with imagination to embellish the melodies with shards of broken glass. Over a base of strings, wind and brass toss ideas playfully from one to another as the movement surges on toward its unexpectedly abrupt climax.
We then arrive at another "Bracanin maestoso" in the energetic finale. Fragments of melody heard in earlier movements are progressively pieced together as once more the sense of triumph, so familiar from the Second Symphony, is evoked once more. A more expressive passage, marked Andante cantabile, provides an intense contrast as it returns throughout the movement, but before long one senses the forces being marshalled once more as the insistent rhythms assert their dominance. Elegy and action are brought into an unusual organic unity as a cymbal and drum flourish brings down the rousing final chord.
Bracanin, who always seems so fascinated by time, demonstrates superbly here his musical gift, which is perhaps to make that very same time stand still.
Symphony No. 2 (Choral)
1)Andante con tempo rubato (12:01)
2)Allegro molto (4:36)
4)Allegro maestoso (11:59)
Symphony No. 3
6)Andante lusingando (8:06)
7)Allegro vivace (3:57)
8)Allegro maestoso (10:24)