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Gustav HOLST (1874Ė1934)
Greeting (1904) [5.42]
Dances and Folk Song Settings from Panís Anniversary (1905) [11.09]
Incidental Music for The Pageant of St. Martin in the Fields (1921) [7.43]
HOLST/Henry PURCELL (1659Ė1695)

Suite No. 1 from The Gordian Knot Untied [9.09]
Suite No. 2 from The Gordian Knot Untied [6.10]
Suite from The Virtuous Wife [13.17]
Suite from The Married Beau [17.24]
Philharmonia Bulgarica/Jon Ceander Mitchell
rec. 15 January 2006, OKI Nadeshda Auditorium, Sofia, Bulgaria
CENTAUR CRC 2857 [72.02]


 


Not everything that composers write is of equal interest to listeners. Inevitably pieces crop up which are more interesting for the light they shed on the composerís career rather than for any innately musical reasons. Even a composer as fastidious as Gustav Holst left a number of works behind which lack the spark which ignites his best. As a composer, performer and teacher Holst wrote quite a bit of music to be performed by amateurs, some of it for teaching purposes at St. Paulís Girls School where he taught.

This new disc from conductor Jon Ceander Mitchell brings together a number of Holstís smaller occasional works, written either for teaching or for one-off events. The music included consists of the incidental music Holst wrote for a 1905 performance of Ben Jonsonís masque, Panís Anniversary; the incidental music for the 1921 Pageant of St. Martin in the Fields and a series of suites taken from Purcellís music, arrangements made for St. Paulís Girls School.

The disc opens with Greeting, a work which occurs in a variety of forms. Written in 1904, it was originally for violin and piano but here given in its orchestral guise. The piece is fluent and effective but its main interest is to give us a glimpse of the early, Wagner-oriented Holst, prior to his involvement in English folk song.

This move towards folk song came about through Holstís friendship with Ralph Vaughan Williams. The two had met at the Royal College of Music and continued in close partnership until Holstís death. They showed each other nearly all their work and freely commented on it.

Vaughan Williams was engaged to write music for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford. One of the commissions was for Ben Jonsonís Panís Anniversary or the Shepherdís Holyday a masque originally written in 1620. Vaughan Williams wrote the hymns and some of the incidental music whilst giving Holst the dances and some of the folk songs. Despite their closeness, this was a rare occasion when they collaborated on a job.

Holstís music consists of arrangements of 16th century dances, Sellinger's Round and the folk songs ĎThe Lost Lady Foundí, ĎMaria Martiní and ĎAll on Spurn Pointí Ė the latter two collected by Vaughan Williams. The music is orchestrated effectively for chamber orchestra, but never succeeds in being greater than the sum of its parts. At times the music raises echoes of Vaughan Williamsís Folk Song Suite. The 'The Lost Lady Found' rather pales when compared to Percy Graingerís arrangement.

The incidental music to The Pageant of St. Martin in the Fields was written in 1921, after Holstís success with The Planets and The Hymn of Jesus. The pageant was the brainchild of the parish priest, Dick Sheppard, someone whom Holst admired, hence his involvement in the project. Holst not only composed and conducted the music, but supplied the musicians, mainly students and friends. The most striking movement is the opening ĎFuneral Marchí which marks itself as being mature Holst. The other movements recycle material Holst had used before, notably ĎThe Entry of the Masquersí from Panís Anniversary, now seen in a far more sophisticated guise.

These pieces are of some interest and the Pageant provides the opportunity to hear some mature Holst. It is a shame that the recordings were not coupled to some other rarities from his mature period.

Instead, the remainder of the disc consists of four suites of music from Purcell. Holst took the Purcell Society scores, removed the piano part and added wind parts. By and large his arrangements are quite conservative and provide effective ways of playing Purcellís music with a reasonable sized chamber orchestra.

For the performances, Jon Ceander Mitchell has sensibly made no attempt to reconstruct the style of performance of Purcellís time, instead opting for the sort of forces and style of performance that Holst would have expected. The results are effective and attractive but undeniably not in period style. They have a charm of their own, evoking a style of performance which has by and large disappeared.

Mitchell and the Philharmonia Bulgarica make the best case possible for these pieces. Their performances are lively and attractive, but the pieces themselves are of limited interested. Frankly I suspect that this disc is for Holst completists only.

Robert Hugill

 

 


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