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Joseph HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
String Quartet No. 1 Fantasie in D minor Op. 17b Departure, Absence, Return (1905) [15.15]
String Quartet No. 2 Impressions (Belgium 1915; Russia-1915) Op. 59a (1915) [12.42]
Song of the Bottle (from Folk Song Suite No. 2 Op. 72, No. 2) (1917) [4.02]
Eileen Shona for clarinet and string quartet (1905) [3.58]
The Last Rose of Summer and Mavourneen Deelish for string quartet from Folk Song Suite No. 1) (1916) [3.59+1.21]
Clarinet Quintet Op. 27 (1910) [24.58]
The Rasumovsky Quartet
Richards Hosford Clarinet
rec. 26-28 Mar 2002, Great Hall, Bancroft's School, Woodford, Essex. DDD
DUTTON EPOCH CDLX 7124 [67.17]



Holbrooke was a resolute and aggressive partisan for his own music ... and that of others. His series of chamber music concerts (usually in London) spanned the period from the turn of the century until 1935. These concerts avoided the standard repertoire concentrating instead on his own compositions and those of contemporaries in the UK and elsewhere. He included pieces by Florent Schmitt and Max Reger. The latter was represented by a series of the violin sonatas now being recorded methodically by CPO but previously to be had more sporadically on Da Camera Magna, Claves and Troubadisc amongst others. The concerts and much else about the Holbrooke lifestyle was supported financially by his very own Maecenas, Lord Howard de Walden, who died in 1946. The De Walden Estate owned much of the centre of London. The then Lord Howard was amongst the wealthiest men in the land. Couple this with his commitment to Welsh language and culture and it comes as no surprise that the two collaborated on the trilogy of music dramas - The Cauldron of Annwn based on episodes from the Mabinogion. De Walden wrote the libretto as T.E. Scott-Ellis while Holbrooke wrote the music. Sets were designed by another of Lord Howard's 'chicks', the fantastic artist Sidney Sime. Tom Fairbairn (later to stage the Hiawatha trilogy for Sargent) was the producer. De Walden bought a car for 'his' composer, houses including a holiday home at his beloved Harlech, took him on his honeymoon cruise around the Adriatic, paid for his concerts and opera productions, allowed him to stay at various of the de Walden family homes most notably Chirk Castle and generally ministered to him.

If Holbrooke had self-doubts they must have been deeply subsumed because in general he wrote with ferocious conviction of the genius of his own writing. That splenetic tendency left wheals and slashes among friends, supporters, orchestra managements, conductors, critics and broadcasters. His BBC files are littered with head-on assaults and resentment. Diplomacy was not one his fortes and neither was mollifying humility.

His music has made slow headway since his death in 1958. There are three Marco Polo discs (two orchestral and one chamber) as well as another disc of the chamber music on Mike Skeet's admirable British Music Label. Hyperion have recorded his late romantic Piano Concerto, a fairly unsubtle Tchaikovskian work that might have gone better if Hamish Milne had taken it a quicker pace. It is coupled with the Haydn Wood concerto.

The Clarinet Quintet has been recorded before (by John McCaw for Gwydion Brooke's Blenheim label) but this is the world premiere recording for the two string quartets. Before the McCaw LP there were a set of Columbia 78s (LX 814-816 [manual] and LX 8442-8445 [auto]) from Reginald Kell (1906-1981), the composer’s son-in-law, with the Willoughby Quartet. This historic recording, which as Foreman explains differs from the work currently recorded, was reissued in February 1991 by Testament on Continuum CD SBT 1002 coupled with Kell's recordings of Brahms Clarinet Trio and Weber's Concertino. Such a pity that the forbiddingly difficult Third Quartet Pickwick could not have been added in place of the clarinet quintet. [see note]

Ultimately the First Quartet is a smooth and highly polished essay in which a Brahmsian treatment and Mozartian abandon meet with material that is seethingly Elgarian and full of life. It was written for the 1905 Cobbett fantasy competition; one of 24 such pieces that year. The three movements are played without interruption.

While Holbrooke was never a pastoralist he was happy to weave fantastic visions from folk material. The Song of the Bottle, The Last Rose of Summer and Mavourneen Deelish are full of original and strange harmonic adventures, at one moment dreamily Howellsian, baskingly Delian, at another suggestive of Griffes, of Zemlinsky and of Richard Strauss.

'Eileen Shona' may well be spelt that way in some scores (variant spellings are quite common with Holbrooke) but most have it correctly as Eilean Shona (in Gaelic, happy or contented island). Eilean Shona is a place on the Ardnamurchan peninsula (not that far away from Bax's Morar and the silver sands); no doubt another of de Walden's summer holiday retreats. In this music the skies are evidently blue and there is a contented drowsily reflective warmth about this lovingly shaped music. It has been recorded previously on Hyperion by Thea King.

The Second Quartet is in two movements: the first, Belgium, in the form of a tender serenade and the second is a sparklingly etched Russian Dance treated as fugue or round. The references to '1915' and the Allies was probably a perfectly understandable piece of concert opportunism by Holbrooke. Like many another composer during the last two world wars our hero grasped chances to get performances of his music in an atmosphere where German music was briefly viewed with patriotic suspicion or loathing. The music is brilliant and no doubt appealed to wartime audiences attending his fundraising concerts during the Great War as much as it does now.

It might be helpful at this point to set the record straight (or as straight as I can) about the string quartets. They are listed in tabulated form at the end of this review together with a similar tabulation of the Poeana works.

Holbrooke was a tough product of the lower working classes without the platinum spoon of a Vaughan Williams or Bax. As an adherent of the Academy and Frederick Corder Holbrooke was in a small and side-lined group which also included Cyril Scott and Paul Corder. Despite these antecedents which preferred Liszt, Wagner, the Russian and French nationalists over Brahms and Beethoven, the Clarinet Quintet is distinctly Brahmsian at times. At others it is a Tchaikovskian gambol. The irresistibly lyrical Canzonet movement has enjoyed a concert life of its own and no wonder. This work is related by Holbrooke to one of his life's obsessions - in this case to Poe’s poem Ligeia. As Finzi had Hardy, as Bax had Yeats, so Holbrooke had Edgar Allan Poe. His sequence of works entitled Poeana and each given its own number is listed at the end of this review. The Poeana numbering scheme was revised several times so do not be surprised if you come across inconsistencies.

Holbrooke wrote in every medium and for a while it was for orchestral music that he became known. In the right hands Ulalume can be as effective as Rachmaninov's The Isle of the Dead. The impressionistic Queen Mab is as good as the best Ravel. The eerie yet tender Cradle Song and the scorchingly intense Funeral March from the last of the de Walden trilogy, Bronwen, are masterful and can stand compare with the best. There is a lyrical violin concerto, sometimes entitled The Grasshopper, based on his second violin sonata (or possibly vice versa); as well as a concerto for cello (mid-1930s), a second piano concerto The Orient and a double concerto for clarinet and bassoon. Among the eight symphonies the epic Second Apollo and the Seaman sounds promising as do the Third, Ships, the Seventh Aal Aaraaf (for strings) and an Eighth for piano and orchestra (also known as the 'Third Piano Concerto'). Two late tone poems based on his beloved Edgar Allan Poe also sound intriguing: The Pit and the Pendulum and The Maelstrom. Along with his concert overture Amontillado these merit a recorded assessment. Also in urgent need of studio attention are the three violin sonatas, the third string quartet Pickwick and the two piano sonatas from the 1930s.

Holbrooke is his own man so what are the impressions likely to be taken from hearing this disc. The overriding one is pleasure (listen to the burbling buzz of the clarinet at 6.15 in the finale of the Op. 27 quintet). The first quartet is largely conventional with one or two pleasingly unnerving moments, his handling of folksong is astoundingly fresh and impressionistic. The clarinet quintet is essential listening for those who think they know their 20th century music - try to hear Holbrooke if you already have sympathies with the chamber music of Cras, Bax, Howell, Vierne, Loeffler, Carpenter and Bonnal.


Rob Barnett


NOTE

In March 1975, Thomas Clear issued the second of two privately issued sets of LPs as TLC-2582. This includes the Holbrooke alongside Loeffler's String Quintet, Saint-Saëns Cello Sonata, Gieseking's Flute Sonatine, Hahn's Violin Sonata, Golestan's Tzingarella, Martinů's Trio-Sonata, Ferroud's Cello Sonata, Kreisler's String Quartet, Rubinstein's Passepied, Harris's Trio, Neglia's Piano Quartet, Medtner's Violin Sonata, Hausermann's Piano Quintet and Hindemith's Cello Sonata. Does anyone still have this set I wonder?

HOLBROOKE’S STRING QUARTETS (numbered)

No. 1 String Quartet No. 1 [Fantasie] in D major Departure, Absence, Return Op. 17b [No. 1] (1890)

No. 2 String Quartet No. 2 Belgium - Russia [War Impressions, Two Impressions or Impressions Op. 58 [59a] (1915)

No. 3 String Quartet No. 3 Pickwick Club Op. 68 [67] (1916)

No. 4 String Quartet No. 4 Folk Song Suite No. 1 Op. 71 (1917?)

No. 5 String Quartet No. 5 Folk Song Suite No. 2 Op. 72 (1917?)

No. 6 String Quartet No. 6 Folk Song Suite No. 3 Op. 73 (1918?)
 
HOLBROOKE’S POEANA: Music inspired by the writings of Edgar Allan Poe

Holbrooke’s fascination with the literary output of Poe lead to a substantial number of compositions inspired by the poems and short stories. As was Holbrooke’s wont he devised a numbering scheme which he designated as "Poeana". Modern Music Library published a complete catalogue of the works as at October 1941. This gives the Poeana sequence complete to that date.

1 The Raven, Tone Poem for orchestra Op. 25 (1900)
2 Clarinet Quintet in G major [Ligeia] Op. 27 (1910)
3 Sextet for (1) piano and wind instruments or (2) piano and string quintet Israfel Op. 33a (1901)
4 Ulalume, Tone Poem for orchestra Op. 35 (1903)
5 Annabel Lee, Ballad for voice and orchestra Op. 41b (1905)
6 Symphony No. 7 [Aal Aaraaf] for string orchestra Op. 109 (1930s)
7 To Zante for unaccompanied choir Op. 47 (early 1900s)
8 The Fall of the House of Usher (8-11 represent movements from his First Choral Symphony)
9 Catholic Hymn
10 The City in the Sea
11 The Valley Nis
12 The Bells, Tone Poem for chorus and orchestra Op. 50 (1903)
13 In Fairyland Op. 47 No. 4 (1900s?)
14 The Masque of the Red Death, Ballet for orchestra Op. 65 [47; 66; 67] (1913?)
15 Wind Quartet for flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon Serenade Op. 94 [91a] (1929)
16 Ballade, Eulalie for horn and piano (1920s?)
17 Dreamland
18 Eldorado
19 Bridal Ballad
20 ?
21 A Dream
22 The Lake
23 The River
24 The Colosseum
25 Let There Be Light song for voice and piano Op. 106b (1920s?)
26 Symphonietta [The Sleeper] for fourteen wind instruments Op. 118 (mid 1930s?)
27 Double Concerto Tamerlane for clarinet (or saxophone), bassoon and small orchestra Op. 119 (1939?)
28 Arietta (or Dreams?), duet for harp and flute Op. 120 (1930s?)
29 Amontillado, Dramatic Overture for orchestra Op. 123 (late 1930s?)
30 Piano Sonata Fantasie Sonate No. 1 in A Op. 124 (1940s?)
31a Suite No. 1 for string orchestra Op. 125a (1940s?) (these two suites relate to the individual movements numbers 17-24 above)
31b Suite No. 2 for string orchestra Op. 125b (1940s?)
24? The Maelstrom or Descent Into The Maelstrom , Fantasie for orchestra (late 1930s?).
32 The Pit and the Pendulum, Fantasie for orchestra (late 1930s?)
33 Irene, Nonet for two violins, viola, cello, double bass, flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon Op. 129 (late 1930s?)
34? Eight Nocturnes for piano Op. 121 (1930s?)
35? Bassoon Quintet, Eleonora Op. 134 (1952)



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