June 29, 2015
Charles O’Brien (1882-1968) was born in Eastbourne (summer place) but was raised in Edinburgh to a father who was a trombonist in the Eastbourne Orchestra. His grandfather was a composer and french horn player while his great-grandfather was the principle horn player at Covent Garden. O’Brien had the good fortune to be taught by some of the finer teachers in Scotland. One of his teachers Hamish Macunn, the leading composer of the day taught him counterpoint which is quite evident when you listen to his Symphony in F minor, op. 23.
It was through the efforts of O’Brien’s grandson David and conductor of this CD Paul Mann that this recording came to being. I should also mention that executive producer of Toccata and his willingness to take on projects of this nature should be applauded.
“Ellangowan” Overture, op. 12 was written in 1909 with the name coming from Sir Walter Scott’s Guy Mannering. It was a place on the Scottish borders where part of the story unfolded. O’Brien wrote two versions of the overture. The one on this CD is the longer version (5 minutes) for a larger orchestra. The shorter version is also arranged for a smaller ensemble. The first bars let it be known that this melody is Scottish and the ‘Scotch snap’ is most evident. The theme is not as I thought a folk melody but an original theme from O’Brien. The theme appears through the whole work. In addition there is a second theme which is evident but definitely in a secondary role. It is a bright upbeat overture that shows a happy composer.
It was thirteen years later that O’Brien wrote his powerful Symphony in F minor, op. 23, his last large scale major work. Keep in mine that 45 years elapsed until he died in 1968. The work in my opinion is one that should be played on a far more regular basis than it is now. It is a perfect time for the second half of a program and listeners will be quite pleased on how easy it is to follow. Marked serioso the first movement is the most powerful of the movements and sets the stage for the three movements that follow. It has quite an ear catching exchange between the horns and the strings. The wonderful melody heard right from the beginning is one that unfolds through the entire movement and is developed quite nicely. I especially like the way he uses the bassoon. The menuetto begins with an extended theme from the oboe with harmony from the other woodwinds and strings who also play part of the melody. The third movement an andante cantabile offers a melancholy theme that features an exchange in the woodwind section with the horns providing excellent harmony. The final movement an allegro returns to the robust tempo of the first movement. It is quite an agitated before it quiets down to feature the theme of the movement and features a rousing ending not to be missed.
The CD is well recorded as it was fairly easy to hear the distinct sound of the instruments especially the bassoon which O’Brien seems to favor. It is a smaller orchestra and there are a couple of passages where it is a bit thin but don’t let this discourage you from purchasing this. I for one am pleased that Toccata releases this kind of material. I’m looking forward to getting the new Solberg release and doing a review on that also. Highly recommended.
1. Ellangowan Concert Overture (17:50)
Symphony in F minor
2. Con moto moderato e serioso (15:53)
3. Menuetto (7:13)
4. Andante sostenuto e cantabile (11:13)
5. Allegro con moto (10:32)