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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Two Songs without Words, Op. 22 (1906) [8’03]. Fugal Concerto, Op. 40 No. 2b (1923) [8’04]. Ballet Music from The Golden Goose, Op. 45 No. 1 (1926, 1969) [14’51]. A Moorside Suite – Nocturne (1928, arr. strings) [6’36]. Double Concerto, Op. 49c (1929) [14’23]. Lyric Movementd (1933) [9’57]. Brook Green Suite (1933) [9’57]. Capriccio (1933, ed. I. Holst 1968) [6’02].
bWilliam Bennett (flute); bPeter Graeme (oboe); cEmmanuel Hurwitz, cKenneth Sillito (violins); dCecil Aronowitz (viola); English Chamber Orchestra/Imogen Holst.
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The ability to programme smaller works of major composers effectively into a 70- or 80-minute programme was seemingly one of Lyrita’s defining strengths. The present disc is a case in point, the whole given a special stamp of authority by Imogen Holst’s fervent conducting.

The Fugal Concerto, for flute, oboe and strings, is a light but craftsmanly piece, impeccably played on this occasion by William Bennett and Peter Graeme (the rhythmic unisons of the finale are a delight). The cheeky end is a sure pointer to the composer’s sense of humour. Interesting to note that on first reception the work was received as rather dry (this was the time of neo-classicism), yet viewed from today it appears anything but. There is in fact another double concerto on the disc, that for two violins and orchestra, dating from six years later and written for Adila Fachiri and Jelly d’Aranyi. The work is in three thematically-linked movements and it is hard to imagine two more committed soloists than the well-loved Emmanuel Hurwitz and Kenneth Sillito. The first movement is interesting for its sudden blossomings of lyricism in rather angular surroundings, while the slow movement, marked ‘Lament’, is truly music of a private world, an interior duologue. It represents a real double concerto, too, in that the lines entwine. Strangely, as far as balance is concerned, one violin seems distinctly more forward-placed in the finale than the other.

The Lyric Movement is a real highlight of the disc, not least because of Cecil Aronowitz’s staunch advocacy. Imogen Holst, in her booklet notes, refers to it as ‘one of the best and least known of my father’s works’ and it would certainly appear to deserve wider currency on this evidence. Aronowitz plays with real lyric feeling, the plaintive sound of the viola’s upper reaches carrying much emotion. Viola players (and, indeed, concert promoters) should take note: this is an extended, hypnotic meditation. The hyper-delicate ‘Nocturne’ (from A Moorside Suite), here arranged for strings, makes a similar impression.

Holst wrote a choral ballet in 1926 for his pupils at Morley College and at St Paul’s Girls School (for open-air performance) called The Golden Goose. Holst approved a concert version, minus chorus – Imogen Holst cut the piece further and toned down the orchestration for the more civilised environs of a concert hall (or, indeed, a recording studio). The work now lasts around a quarter of an hour. A distanced (off-stage, presumably) solo trumpet initiates activities, before the work opens out into more overt jollity. There is much robust rhythmic writing here. Holst’s landscape is painted in bright (if not quite primary) colours, leading to a vigorous finale. This performance has all the vitality one could wish for.

Brook Green Suite is well-loved Holst, written for the junior orchestra of St Paul’s Girls’ School in Brook Green, London. It is a confident work, frequently delightful. The finale, especially in this performance, brims over with rustic energy and enthusiasm.

The Two Songs without Words, Op. 22, that opens the programme, is contemporary with A Somerset Rhapsody. Dedicated to Vaughan Williams, both Songs reveal the approachable side of the composer. There is some lovely oboe playing in the first piece here.

Finally, the Capriccio was originally written in response to a request for a short radio piece for concert band. Since 1952, it languished in the British Museum. That is, until Imogen Holst ‘rescued’ it in 1967 by adjusting the scoring for orchestra. From the lovely calming solo string opening, the piece works itself up into festive music of great wit scored with a feather-light touch. It is the perfect way to end a disc that mixes the familiar with the less-familiar in such a convincing fashion.

Colin Clarke

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