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Josef HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
The Piano Music - Volume 1
Rhapsodie-Etude, Op. 42, No. 1 – Caprice Brillant; Nocturne, Op. 121, No. 1 – Gulnare (Byron); Rhapsodie-Etude, Op. 42, No. 2 – Poursuivant; Nocturne, Op. 121, No. 2 – Donegal; Rhapsodie-Etude, Op. 42, No. 3 – Energique; Nocturne, Op. 121, No. 4 – Elan; Rhapsodie-Etude, Op. 42, No. 4 – La Fantastique; Rhapsodie-Etude, Op. 42, No. 10 – Novellette; Barrage, Op. 78; Fantasie-Sonate No. 1 “The Haunted Palace”, Op. 124; First Barcarolle, Op. 17, No. 6; Fantasie-Sonate No. 2 “Destiny”, Op. 128.
Panagiotis Trochopoulos (piano)
rec.South Downs College, England, 29-30 May 2008. DDD

Experience Classicsonline


Well this is intriguing. Holbrooke’s music is gradually inching its way out of obscurity and into the light. Apart from a cassette issue made a couple of decades ago we have heard little of the piano music from a composer who made his living for many years as a concert pianist.

His set of Rhapsodie-Etudes (1898-1905) are dedicated to the virtuosos of the day. No. 1 at first smacks of Scott Joplin before leaning on the brilliance of Godowsky. Energique and La Fantastique are patterned dances – one seemingly for goblins; the other for some faery host. Each should also sound well as a pianola roll. Novellette has more gravitas and is intensely romantic – even coincidentally predictive of a certain Khachaturian Adagio.

He wrote many short pieces during his time as a music-teacher in the 1890s and one set of these offers the dreamy light-as-down First Barcarolle.

Barrage dates from the end of the Great War. Dedicated to The Royal Regiment of Artillery, it is a hard-edged ironclad declamatory piece which achieves a fit with the plunging wildness of contemporary pieces by Ornstein, Mossolov and Stanchinsky. It demands and receives a virtuosic cauldron of a performance from Trochopoulos.

The Op. 121 Nocturnes are from much later but range over material written many years before. Gulnare is romantic and seems, in part, indebted to Rachmaninov – a presence felt in other pieces here. He is after all reputed to have given very early performances of the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto in the UK. Donegal is a touching, gentle, yet assertive evocation with a touch of shamrock sentimentality about it. Elan with its main theme familiar from The Birds of Rhiannon is tellingly played – weighted with audacious deliberation.

The two single-movement Fantasy-Sonatas are products of the mid-late 1930s and in large part are reminiscent of the Medtner or MacDowell sonatas but with a stronger rhetorical aspect. The first draws on his Dramatic Choral Symphony: Hommage to E.A. Poe, Op. 48, (1908). Poe was a great and constant inspiration in much the same way that Hardy was to Finzi or, to a lesser extent, Yeats was to Bax. There are more than thirty Holbrooke works in his ‘Poeana’ catalogue. The Haunted Palace is music of heroic elegance redolent of the Chopin Scherzos. This jostles with music-hall ideas as at 5:03 and ends in a thunderous scree of notes. The Second Fantasy-Sonata is another virtuosic piece with a serious tragic-romantic profile. At first the progress of the music is episodic but a more cohesive sense of development emerges in the second part of the work with a reminiscence of the grotesque dances to be found in the Rhapsodie Etudes.

The supportive liner-notes are by Gareth Vaughan who is emerging as a real Holbrooke authority.

You should take to this music if you appreciate the piano music of York Bowen, Medtner and Rachmaninov. Well worth exploring. A second disc is promised which will include the remaining Rhapsodie-Etudes and Nocturnes. I hope that Trochopoulos – who has championed the piano music at Em Marshall’s English Music Festival – will also tackle the Cambrian Ballades, Futurist Dances, Ten Mezzotints and Celtic Suite. When he has finished perhaps he can be persuaded to dust off the sic concertos by a British Rachmaninov epigone of the 1930s and 1940s, Roger Sacheverell Coke. There are already rumours that he is learning and will record Holbrooke’s Second Piano Concerto ‘The Orient’.

Rob Barnett





Twelve Pieces for the piano Op. 2 (1890s)

Ten Piano pieces Op. 4 (1890s)

Twelve Piano pieces Op. 10 (1890s)

Seven Pieces for piano Op. 17a (1890s)

Miniature [Romantic] Suite for piano Op. 18a [105] (1890s)

Suite Moderne Op. 18b (1893-96)

Coromanthe Waltz for two pianos Op. 18c (1910s?)

Ten Rhapsodie Etudes Op. 42 (1898-1905)

Duo in D for two pianos Op. 43 (?)

Scottish Fantasia or Scottish Airs (1910?)

Ten Mezzotints Op. 49 (1906)

Book of Wonder Suite Op. 58 (early 1920s)

Eldorado Suite [Op. 102] (1930s?)

The Lake Suite [Op. 102] (1930s?)

The Red Masque Op. 65 (1913)

Four Futurist Dances Op. 66 (late 1910s)

Jamaica Melodies for piano (for the young) Op. 67 (early 1920s)

The Enchanted Garden Suite Op. 70a (1915?)

Celtic Suite Op. 72 (1917?)

Barrage Op. 78a (circa 1920?)

The Shaving of Shagpat Suite Op. 78b [70b] (1920?)

Talsarnau, Valse de Concert Op. 79 (circa 1920?)

Dolgelley, Cambrian Ballade No. 1 in C Op. 80 (early 1920s)

Penmachno, Cambrian Ballade No. 2 in C minor Op. 81 (early 1920s)

Tan-y-Grisiau, Cambrian Ballade No. 3 in B minor Op. 82 (early 1920s)

Dance Music Op. 86 (1920s?)

Bogey Beasts Op. 89 (1920s)

The Orient (1920s?)

Javanese Pepper Dance Op. 100 (1928)

Maentwrog, Cambrian Ballade No. 4 in C Op. 104 (early 1920s)

Pieces for piano Op. 105 (?)

Eight Nocturnes Op. 121 (1939)

Sonata Fantasie Sonate No. 1 in A [The Haunted Palace] Op. 124 (1940s?)

Extemporisation for pianola (1940s?)

Sonata Fantasie Sonate No. 2 in B minor [Destiny or The Man of the Crowd] Op. 128 (1940s?)

Note: Holbrooke made and published piano transcriptions of many of his orchestral works and some of the chamber music.





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