Richard Blackford

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alternatively Crotchet

Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra Op.49/H175 (1929) [14:54]
St Paul’s Suite Op. 29 No.2/H118 (1913) [12:26]
Brook Green Suite H190 (1933) [6:01]
A Song of the Night for Violin and Orchestra Op.19 No.1/H74 [8:14]
Lyric Movement for Viola and Chamber Orchestra H191 (1933) [11:32]
A Fugal Concerto for Flute, Oboe and Strings Op.40/H152 (1922) [8:26]
Janice Graham (violin), Sarah Ewins (violin), Andriy Viytovych (viola), Anna Pyne (flute), Philip Harmer (oboe)
English Sinfonia/Howard Griffiths
rec. St Clements Church, Islington, London, November 2005
NAXOS 8.570339 [61:33]

I was expecting good things here but by and large I was disappointed. Since the disc largely replicates the running order of Imogen Holst’s old Lyrita LP I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to judge the newcomer against the standards set on that disc. You won’t need to dust down your vinyl – it’s out on Lyrita SRCD223.
The Lyric Movement for Viola and Chamber Orchestra is one of the more successful performances. Andriy Viytovych is a good player but neither he nor Howard Griffith really quite summons up the sheer level of atmosphere that Cecil Aronowitz, the ECO and Imogen Holst managed. I was also distracted by the over-prominent flute.
Griffiths is in a tearing hurry in the Brook Green Suite. He’s obviously not the kind of conductor to be seduced by its central movement – which is neither tender nor affectionate – and his off-hand professionalism does little for Holst. The big entries are over-done and this brusque approach also does for the finale. Imogen Holst is steadier and wittier.
It’s déjà vu all over again in the St Paul’s Suite. To be frank I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more perfunctory run-through than this. Surely the answer to treacly go-rounds is not this kind of indifference. The finale’s Greensleeves counter-theme is too fast, dynamics are not graded and the outsize contrasts make mincemeat of the thing.
Not having much luck I turned in mounting desperation to A Fugal Concerto. Yes, this sounded vibrant and forthcoming but no, next to William Bennett, Peter Graeme and co. this sounds, again, less than stellar.  At a steadier tempo the Lyrita crew bring out the witty baroque elements but Griffiths is again too brusque and his soloists lack personality. Everyone concerned makes a right old meal of the Adagio’s pizzicati.
Even the Concerto for Two Violins suffers from this straight-backed and apparently wintry approach. Emanuel Hurwitz and Kenneth Sillito took fourteen and a half minutes over this and the young guns zip by in 11:54. Well, timings aren’t everything and I often favour fast tempi - but not here. I liked the rare A Song of the Night for Violin and Orchestra – did I detect a modicum of affection for the thing?
Even at Naxos’s price I would avoid this and head straight for the Lyrita. The performances there are warmly convincing but lack nothing in spine. These Naxos ones are, I’m afraid, decidedly off-putting.
Jonathan Woolf

British Composers on Naxos page



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