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Under the Radar DVD of the Week: 'The Curse of the Gothic Symphony'

Dennis King Published: April 14, 2014
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This week, the oddest DVD to appear on release lists is:

‘The Curse of the Gothic Symphony”

Eccentric British composer Havergal Brian’s symphony, “The Gothic” is widely considered among the longest, largest and most technically difficult symphonies ever composed. Its colorful history and an 80-year shadow that has hung over this seldom-performed musical work is the subject of “The Curse of the Gothic Symphony” (due out on DVD Tuesday).

This 2011 documentary charts the efforts of a determined and passionate group of musicians in Australia to break the curse and mount a performance of the monumental symphony – which demands a 200 piece orchestra and a 500 voice choir – for the first time in 30 years.

Often called “the Everest of classical music,” the work took Brian (1876-1972) eight years to finish, and by the end the composer himself declared the symphony to be cursed, claiming that it wrote itself. So daunting is the task of mounting this symphony that it had only been performed four previous times when a group of musicians and music lovers determined to defy the curse and stage a 2010 performance in Brisbane.

Director Randall Wood profiles the key players in the five-year saga – impresario Gary Thorpe, youth orchestra conductor John Curro, choral master Alison Rogers and dogged producer Veronica Fury – and lucidly lays out the seemingly insurmountable problems they faced – from funding the performance to securing a venue to assembling the required group of skilled musicians and choristers needed to do the symphony justice.

Suitably, the film builds, with surprising dramatic force, to an evocative sampling of the culminating performance itself, and leaves us with just enough hint of sublime, transcendent melody to recognize the ongoing attraction and obsession that this dead composer’s master work encourages.

“The Curse of the Gothic Symphony” is not rated and runs 82 minutes. It’s being released by First Run Features.

- Dennis King