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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Walt Whitman Op.7 (1899) [7:14]
Suite de Ballet in E flat Op.10 (1899) [19:43]
Suite in E flat Op.28 No.1 orch. Gordon Jacob (1909) [10:12]
A Hampshire Suite Op. 28 No.2 orch. Gordon Jacob (1911) [11:18]
A Moorside Suite orch. Gordon Jacob (1928) [17:01]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Nicholas Braithwaite
rec. Watford Town Hall, 14 Jan 1988 (Whitman); July and 23 August 1993 (Suite E flat); 26 August 1993 (Hampshire, Moorside); Kingsway Hall, 7 March 1980 (Suite de Ballet). ADD (Suite de Ballet); DDD
LYRITA SRCD.210 [63:31]


Lyrita have always had a strong Holst niche with those splendid Boult/LPO and Imogen Holst/ECO recordings for long a mainstay of their vinyl catalogue. They also found almost immediate places as of right in the reissue catalogue sparingly issued by Lyrita in the early 1990s.

Whitman’s free-ranging and very unVictorian emotional poetry was a great draw among composers. Both Holst and his friend RVW came under its influence. For Vaughan Williams there were to be songs and most importantly the 1909 Sea Symphony. W H Bell - surely the next major discovery - wrote a Whitman Symphony in the same year as the Holst overture. Holst of course set Whitman’s words in the most moving and masterly Ode to Death (1919) written in the milieu of a grieving nation. Both Holst and Harty set Whitman’s Mystic Trumpeter. Holst also wrote a Whitman Elegy which you can hear on SRCD.209. Holst’s Whitman overture op. 7 is a confident though not very personal essay bustling with the sort of irrepressibly Straussian power to be found in Szymanowski’s Concert Overture but more often immersed in the manners of Dvořák and Schumann. Similarly in search of its own personality is the contemporaneous but undemanding Suite de Ballet which draws raucously on the pier end and the music-hall in the first movement. Then comes a delicately lilting Valse with some shivers of drama. The Scène de Nuit suggests some Granada nocturne with a sentiment-sweet violin solo – deliciously done. The final Carnival has a military air – something of the confidently bustling march about this.

The remaining three suites are all as orchestrated by Gordon Jacob in the 1940s and 1950s – most skilfully too. Their recordings were made with support from the Holst Foundation. The Suite in E flat is the first truly distinctive piece on the disc. It will be instantly recognised by many because it is an orchestration of the Suite No. 1 for military band in which form a famous recording was made by the Eastman Wind Ensemble conducted by Frederick Fennell. It is here played with gusto although I am not at all sure it suits the orchestra as well as it suits a concert band. If you think of the First Suite as the first set of Malcolm Arnold’s English Dances then the Second Suite - dubbed here A Hampshire Suite - is like Arnold’s second set. It is a credit to Holst that it does not feel ‘warmed over’. Here the music fits the orchestral glove Jacob made for it with greater conviction and the strings, harp and wind solos suit the tenderly intoned Song of the Blacksmith even more successfully than in the Second Suite’s original instrumentation, again for military band. This time there are four movements against the E flat suite’s three. The finale is the Fantasia on the Dargason and will be even better known in its arrangement for strings as the finale of the St Paul’s Suite. There is a recording of the Hampshire Suite on ClassicO conducted by Douglas Bostock. While the first two suites were for military band (another denizen of the seaside and pier-end) the Moorside Suite was written as test piece for the National Brass Band Festival in 1928. The Nocturne for full orchestra – also to be heard in the string orchestra version on SRCD.223 - is desolate in a way not that distant from Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony. This reaches across to the desolation of Holst’s Egdon Heath. Braithwaite lends the piece the chilliest temperature I have ever heard. This provides an easily relished contrast when the March crashes in with its plough-boy confidence and swagger. The acoustic image for the Watford Town Hall items is broad and deep, accommodating the grandeur of the March with as much ease as the thud of the bass drum.

If you would like to explore Holst further then do seek out the following Lyritas:-
SRCD.209 A Winter Idyll, Elegy, Indra, A Song of the Night, Invocation, Sita – Interlude, The Lure, Dances from The Morning of the Year ()
SRCD.222 Fugal Overture, Somerset Rhapsody, Beni Mora, Hammersmith, Scherzo, Japanese Suite (Boult)
SRCD.223 Ballet Music from The Golden Goose, Songs Without Words, Fugal Concerto, Nocturne, Double Concerto, Lyric Movement, Brook Green, Capriccio. (ECO/Imogen Holst)

The ClassicO disc referred to above would also be a worthwhile addition to the Holst shelf – not least for the complete Cotswold Symphony and alternative versions of the Whitman Overture and the Hampshire Suite.

The liner notes for the present CD are by author unnamed – presumably Lewis Foreman?

Not perhaps the most essential of Holst collections but invaluable at satisfying Holstian curiosity. In doing so are revealed three works written in fully mature voice and two from the time when Holst was feeling his way – professionally done but not out of his most personal stock.

Rob Barnett


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