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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
A Fugal Overture, Op. 40 No. 1, H151 (1922) [5:12]
A Somerset Rhapsody, Op. 21 No. 2, H87 (1906-07) [9:01]
Beni Mora - Oriental Suite, Op. 29 No. 1, H 107 (1909-10) [17:13]
Hammersmith - A Prelude and Scherzo for Orchestra, Op. 52, H178, (1931) [13:00]
Scherzo for Orchestra (1933-34) [5:29]
Japanese Suite, Op. 33 (1915) [11:04]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult (Japanese Suite)
No recordings details provided. ADD
LYRITA SRCD222 [61:48]

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The much prized Lyrita catalogue consists of recordings of British music in predominantly critically-acclaimed performances and universally admired recordings. Lyrita sadly disappeared from the scene for a considerable time. Now re-launched, the catalogue is taking shape and I am aware of the first batch of thirty-seven re-releases, three of which are recordings of the music of Gustav Holst.

For many non-specialist listeners the music of Gustav Holst almost exclusively centres around his magnificent Suite The Planets (1914-1916). Some may know a few other scores such as: The Hymn of Jesus for chorus and orchestra (1917); the opera The Perfect Fool (1923), and the orchestral scores St. Paulís Suite (1913); Egdon Heath (1927) and maybe also the Two Suites for Military Band (1909). Iíll wager that few will have much knowledge of the works that are included here, the Scherzo and the Japanese Suite being the two scores that I am least familiar with.

This disc consists of all six of the Holst recordings that Sir Adrian Boult made for Lyrita. Three of the scores: A Somerset Rhapsody, Beni Mora and the Japanese Suite come from near the beginning of Holstís career; A Fugal Overture was composed in his middle years and the two scores Hammersmith and Scherzo from near the end of his life.

A Fugal Overture was written by Holst in 1922 mainly from his desk in the sound-proof room at St. Paul's Girls' School in Brook Green, Hammersmith. The first performance was given at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden when it was pressed into service as the overture to Holstís opera The Perfect Fool. The score to A Somerset Rhapsody uses melodies from folksongs collected in Somerset by Holstís friend Cecil Sharp. The work was first performed in 1910 at the Queenís Hall in London with the New Symphony Orchestra conducted by Edward Mason. Beni Mora was conceived as a result of Holstís holiday to Algeria in 1908. The three movement work is scored for large orchestra and was premièred by the composer in The Queenís Hall, London.

Hammersmith was originally a commission for Military Band and is a product of a creative phase towards the end of Holstís life. The score is evocative of the part of London with which Holst felt a strong affinity. Adrian Boult gave the first performance of the orchestrated version in London in 1931. The Scherzo movement for orchestra was all that remains of the Symphony that Holst was planning in 1933-34. The first performance was given in 1935 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Boult, who pronounced that the score was, "fiendishly difficult to play." Holst actually interrupted his work on his mighty The Planets in 1915 to compose the Japanese Suite. The Suite consists of four short dances that were written at the request of a Japanese dancer Michio Ito who had been appearing at the London Coliseum and wanted a work based on ancient Japanese melodies.

The conductor Sir Adrian Boult was a prominent figure in English musical life and an advocate of English music at home and abroad. He was a friend of Holst and in 1919, on request from the composer, conducted the first performance of part of The Planets. On this disc Boult and his players display remarkable technical prowess and refined musicianship. In A Fugal Overture Boultís reading is robust and ardent with a fine spectrum of colours. A Somerset Rhapsody is given a thoughtful interpretation that I found enchanting. Boult and the LPO provide a tense and unsettling mood to the First Dance of Beni Mora. I loved the way the Chester-born conductor is so light and delicate in the allegretto; the mantra-like motif in the closing movement creates an hypnotic effect. In Hammersmith Boult and his London orchestra provide a sparse and bleak atmosphere in the prelude that depicts the River Thames. The scherzo is given an exuberant reading with a sense of a ghostly stillness that concludes the score.

Boult and his Philharmonic players are in sparkling form with the moody and fiery Scherzo for Orchestra, a work that never seems able to rest. In the Japanese Suite Boult proves an invigorating and refreshing guide and his LSO respond with enthusiasm. In the Prelude - Song of the Fisherman the reading is dreamy and languid and I loved the robustly dramatic Ceremonial Dance. The performers give a light and delicate, almost child-like account of the Dance of the Marionette and the Song of the Fisherman is evocative of a Mendelssohnian seascape. The impressive Dance under the Cherry Tree is elegantly and respectfully performed. The finale - Dance of the Wolves is depicted with threat and aggression.

Lyrita were noted for excellent, clear and well balanced sound quality and thatís exactly what the listener gets here. The authoritative notes by Michael Kennedy add to the appeal.

Michael Cookson

see also review by Colin Clarke


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