Reviewing these disks
together is justified since both consist
of unfamiliar works by the same composer
- indeed most of these are first and
only recordings. Also the hand of Imogen
Holst hovers over both, as conductor
or as editor. Taken in the order listed,
the works are presented on the disks
in remarkably close to chronological
order from earliest to last.
Holstís The Planets,
along with Rimsky-Korsakovís Scheharazade,
has been recognized world-wide since
the 1970s as one of the most opulent,
durable and popular large orchestral
scores ever written. Most people who
admire it do not care for his other
music which is smaller in scope, less
passionate, frequently less mystical.
However The Planets is a good
anthology of Holstís many styles, and
some of the works on these disks can
be compared to one "Planet"
All this music was
available on LP in the 1970s, and briefly
on CD from 1992, but after a long period
of unavailability, here it is in worldwide
distribution. Sound quality is exceptional;
with most of the material in analogue
transfer and some of it in digital recording;
there is no noticeable difference between
I once had the temerity
to define symphonic "American Style"
and then had to list the American composers
who donít adhere to it. British style
would be at once more difficult to pin
down and if British composers could
be ranked by percentage numbers as to
how closely they would adhere to it,
Holst would come very close to 100%.
Even when he is writing "Indian"
music, Holstís mysticism is that of
Thomas Tallis and William Byrd.
Holst often acknowledged
the influence of Grieg, and if his Winter
Idyll were to be paired with Griegís
In Autumn on a concert program,
many would think that they were written
by the same hand.
Imogen Holst discouraged
access to the four movement Cotswold
Symphony, one of Holstís earliest
orchestral works, perhaps because she
felt it would embarrass her father and
injure his reputation. The work was
never played after its initial performance
in 1902. However, with the recent worldwide
renewal of interest in Romantic musical
style, this exquisite slow movement
is occasionally played, a tribute to
William Morris (1834-1896) Pre-Raphaelite
artist and Socialist political writer
and lecturer who had inspired Holst
with his ideals. Morrisí tapestry designs
are still in demand. The whole work
can also be heard on a ClassicO CD.
Indra from 1903
sounds more like the later Holst style
we are familiar with. One hears fleeting
echoes of many of the later famous works
in this substantial dramatic big orchestra
tone-poem on the adventures of the Indian
god. The Lure and Dances from
the Morning of the Year are the
most eclectic works on the disk, sounding
at moments like everybody from Falla
to Nielsen to Respighi, with an odd
echo of Uranus or Neptune from The
Planets here and there. But the
framework is unmistakably Holst, unique
and original. Country Song strikingly
prefigures "Jupiter" from
The Planets showing his first
thoughts on the famous Big Tune.
The Fugal Concerto
is just that, "fugal," but
not a fugue. But the reference to Bach
is not left at that; the slow movement
is a witty parergon* to the slow movement
passacaglia of the Bachís Fifth keyboard
concerto, particularly in its oboe arrangement
as the sinfonia to Cantata 156.
The Golden Goose music may be
familiar to you as it has been occasionally
played and recorded. It has a characteristic
Holstian fanfare theme that, once heard,
cannot be forgotten. The Nocturne
is exquisitely beautiful, employing
one of Holstís trademark marching basses.
The double violin concerto
begins with another "fugal"
movement, a scherzo, proceeding with
some "Uranian" capers before
resuming with a stunning double passage.
The middle movement, lament, is a gorgeous
duet for the two soloists. The final
movement is a virtuoso set of variations.
This is one of my very favorite of all
Holstís works; it is amazing that it
is not more frequently played.
The Brook Green
Suite is another work more often
heard, but no less lovely for its familiarity.
The Capriccio may be more familiar
in its band arrangement but I prefer
this orchestral version prepared by
Imogen Holst in 1968. Following a subdued
introduction the music breaks into one
of Holstís most jaunty march tunes,
then we have a grand chorale tune before
the march is reprised.
The status of lesser
works by a famous composer is always
problematic, but try this experiment:
play this disk for your musical friends
and tell them the music is by a previously
unknown British composer. My bet is
theyíll want to hear more, want to know
more about this undoubtedly great composer;
and that should be our guide.
*OED, No. 2
see also reviews
by Colin Clarke SRCD209