Review: ‘The Curse of the Gothic Symphony’ (G) ? ? ? ?

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The documentary, "The Curse of the Gothic Symphony".
FOR 28 years, Gary Thorpe, a Brisbane presenter for ABC Classic FM, nurtured a wish to hear Havergal Brian’s Gothic Symphony.

That was no trivial ambition. Brian spent from 1919 to 1927 composing it. Previously performed only four times, it requires 150 instrumental players, 600 choristers, four military bands and two children’s choirs.

The logistic issues needing resolution en route to the performance in the Queensland Performing Arts Centre on December 22, 2010 evoked preparing for D-Day – smaller scale, similar complexity.

The film conveys excitement, urgency, conflict between the event’s proponents and the inexorable pressures of “not enough” – time, funding, people able to make a commitment while the idea was still gestating.

Did it work? Did it ever! I walked out ready to visit the ABC shop to get the CD of the performance. The film closes with a short excerpt of the music and it’s breathtaking, a reward for our anxiety as the film rolled that the project might never have got off the ground. It may never happen again.

I like to think that the roaring of the Brisbane mouse awoke the British lion to sweep the cobwebs from the symphony in the land of its birth in a July 2011 London Proms performance.

And this effervescent film tells the world how a scratch Brisbane team beat the BBC to it. Bravo!

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Dougal Macdonald
“CityNews” film reviewer

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