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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
A Fugal Overture, H151 (1922) [5’12]; A Somerset Rhapsody, H87, Op. 21 No. 2 (1906/7) [9’01]; Beni Mora, H107, Op. 29 No. 1 (1909/10) [17’13]; Hammersmith - Prelude and Scherzo for Orchestra, H178, Op. 52 (1931) [13'00]; Scherzo (1933/4) [5’29]; Japanese Suite, Op. 33 (1915) [11’04].
London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra (Japanese Suite)/Sir Adrian Boult.
Original rec. of Fugal Overture made in association with the RVW Trust. ADD
LYRITA SRCD222 [61’48]

 

A feast of Holst. Many of the pieces on this disc come from the fringes of the Holstian output, yet there is seemingly infinite delight here. Of course the fact that the conductor is Sir Adrian Boult helps – all the music gets supremely selfless championship and both London orchestras play their hearts out for him

Perhaps ‘affection’ is the key-word here. Take the rather off-puttingly titled Fugal Overture. Actually, the opening glitters for all it is worth, its highly rhythmic profile superbly defined under Sir Adrian. The work was initially used as the overture for The Perfect Fool when it was heard at Covent Garden (May 14th, 1923). Not strictly fugal, it exudes a neo-classicism yet, as intimated above, this is not dry music – the inclusion of sleigh-bells lightens the mood, balanced by a central episode of darker hue.

Similarly full of life is the earlier A Somerset Rhapsody (1906). The themes were collected by Cecil Sharp, who commissioned the work. The very English ‘Sheep-Shearing Song’ (‘It’s a rosebud in June’) is played by the oboe d’amore in this recording (there is an alternative for ‘normal’ oboe, if the oboe d’amore is unavailable). Holst adds a bitter-sweet tang to the folksy harmonies. Interesting to note that the world of the wind band is there, too (Holst’s Suite in E flat was originally for Military Band).

Beni Mora is perhaps the most famous piece on the disc (the title comes from Robert Hitchins’ novel, ‘The Gardens of Allah’). Interesting to hear how, programmed in this order, Beni Mora seems to grow out of Somerset Rhapsody. Boult understands the various undercurrents to this work, especially in the final ‘In the Street of the Ouled Näils’, but it is perhaps in the gossamer lightness and quasi-Debussian world of the Second Dance that Holst is most successful.

Hammersmith is a fairly extended portrait piece (perhaps along the lines of Elgar’s Cockaigne). Played here in its fully orchestral version (there is a wind band score from 1930), Boult tracks the varied terrain of this piece unerringly. The shadowy tread of the Prelude (depicting the Thames) gives way to a vivid Scherzo (a picture of a Cockney weekend, according to Michael Kennedy’s booklet notes).

Another Scherzo follows, this time all that is left of an abandoned Symphony that Holst planned in 1933-34. It is a vividly-coloured piece and includes a lovely violin solo. The quiet, gentle moments are the most memorable parts.

Finally, eleven minutes of pure delight in the form of the Japanese Suite (1915), contemporary with The Planets. Japanese dancer Michio Ito commissioned it, whistling the authentic tunes to the composer! The opening bassoon solo (Michael Kennedy suggests it invokes the Rite of Spring!) is beautifully played here; the pastiche of the second movement (‘Ceremonial Dance’) is simply great fun. All of the movements are short (the briefest – ‘Interlude, Song of the Fishermen’ is 0’49 - in fact, one wonders why it is so short as it is really beautiful). I suppose we wouldn’t be in Japan without a Cherry Blossom or two somewhere, and the fourth movement presents them (‘Dance under the Cherry Tree’) in all their beauty.

A magnificent journey of exploration, therefore, into the lesser-known byways of a major composer. Unhesitatingly recommended.

Colin Clarke

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