The late Alfred Schnittke has, after his death, been accused of writing too much music of variable quality. This debate is still raging although suffice to say that the Eighth Symphony truly is one of his greatest works and indeed, one of the great symphonic works of the latter twentieth century. The charge of oppressive asceticism laid against the Sixth and Seventh symphonies can hardly be held up to this expansive and frankly emotional work. It is as if Schnittke relaxed the skeletal sounds of his previous essays in the genre and, while not quite returning to the dazzling orchestral pyrotechnics of the Fifth Symphony (Concerto Grosso no. 4), creating a work of great sincerity and beauty. The first movement is an obsessive repetition of a wide-ranging (in pitch, not rhythm) melody, seemingly effortlessly varied to touch on all sections of the orchestra.
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.