Well this is intriguing. Holbrooke’s music
is gradually inching its way out of obscurity and into the light.
Apart from a cassette issue made a couple of decades ago we have
heard little of the piano music from a composer who made his living
for many years as a concert pianist.
His set of Rhapsodie-Etudes (1898-1905)
are dedicated to the virtuosos of the day. No. 1 at first smacks
of Scott Joplin before leaning on the brilliance of Godowsky.
Energique and La Fantastique are patterned dances
– one seemingly for goblins; the other for some faery host. Each
should also sound well as a pianola roll. Novellette has
more gravitas and is intensely romantic – even coincidentally
predictive of a certain Khachaturian Adagio.
He wrote many short pieces during his time as a
music-teacher in the 1890s and one set of these offers the dreamy
light-as-down First Barcarolle.
Barrage dates from the end of the Great
War. Dedicated to The Royal Regiment of Artillery, it is a hard-edged
ironclad declamatory piece which achieves a fit with the plunging
wildness of contemporary pieces by Ornstein, Mossolov and Stanchinsky.
It demands and receives a virtuosic cauldron of a performance
The Op. 121 Nocturnes are from much later
but range over material written many years before. Gulnare
is romantic and seems, in part, indebted to Rachmaninov – a presence
felt in other pieces here. He is after all reputed to have given
very early performances of the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto
in the UK. Donegal is a touching, gentle, yet assertive
evocation with a touch of shamrock sentimentality about it. Elan
with its main theme familiar from The Birds of Rhiannon
is tellingly played – weighted with audacious deliberation.
The two single-movement Fantasy-Sonatas are
products of the mid-late 1930s and in large part are reminiscent
of the Medtner or MacDowell sonatas but with a stronger rhetorical
aspect. The first draws on his Dramatic Choral Symphony: Hommage
to E.A. Poe, Op. 48, (1908). Poe was a great and constant
inspiration in much the same way that Hardy was to Finzi or, to
a lesser extent, Yeats was to Bax. There are more than thirty
Holbrooke works in his ‘Poeana’ catalogue. The Haunted Palace
is music of heroic elegance redolent of the Chopin Scherzos.
This jostles with music-hall ideas as at 5:03 and ends in a thunderous
scree of notes. The Second Fantasy-Sonata is another virtuosic
piece with a serious tragic-romantic profile. At first the progress
of the music is episodic but a more cohesive sense of development
emerges in the second part of the work with a reminiscence of
the grotesque dances to be found in the Rhapsodie Etudes.
The supportive liner-notes are by Gareth Vaughan
who is emerging as a real Holbrooke authority.
You should take to this music if you appreciate
the piano music of York Bowen, Medtner and Rachmaninov. Well worth
exploring. A second disc is promised which will include the remaining
Rhapsodie-Etudes and Nocturnes. I hope that Trochopoulos – who
has championed the piano music at Em Marshall’s English Music
Festival – will also tackle the Cambrian Ballades, Futurist Dances,
Ten Mezzotints and Celtic Suite. When he has finished perhaps
he can be persuaded to dust off the sic concertos by a British
Rachmaninov epigone of the 1930s and 1940s, Roger Sacheverell
Coke. There are already rumours that he is learning and will record
Holbrooke’s Second Piano Concerto ‘The Orient’.
PIANO MUSIC OF JOSEPH HOLBROOKE
Pieces for the piano Op. 2 (1890s)
Piano pieces Op. 4 (1890s)
Piano pieces Op. 10 (1890s)
Pieces for piano Op. 17a (1890s)
Miniature [Romantic] Suite for piano Op. 18a  (1890s)
Suite Moderne Op. 18b (1893-96)
Coromanthe Waltz for two pianos Op. 18c (1910s?)
Rhapsodie Etudes Op. 42 (1898-1905)
in D for two pianos Op. 43 (?)
Fantasia or Scottish Airs (1910?)
Mezzotints Op. 49 (1906)
Book of Wonder Suite Op. 58 (early 1920s)
Suite [Op. 102] (1930s?)
Lake Suite [Op. 102] (1930s?)
The Red Masque Op. 65 (1913)
Four Futurist Dances Op. 66 (late 1910s)
Jamaica Melodies for piano (for the young) Op. 67 (early 1920s)
The Enchanted Garden Suite Op. 70a (1915?)
Celtic Suite Op. 72 (1917?)
Barrage Op. 78a (circa 1920?)
The Shaving of Shagpat Suite Op. 78b [70b] (1920?)
Talsarnau, Valse de Concert Op. 79 (circa 1920?)
Dolgelley, Cambrian Ballade No. 1 in C Op. 80 (early 1920s)
Penmachno, Cambrian Ballade No. 2 in C minor Op. 81 (early
Tan-y-Grisiau, Cambrian Ballade No. 3 in B minor Op. 82 (early
Music Op. 86 (1920s?)
Bogey Beasts Op. 89 (1920s)
Javanese Pepper Dance Op. 100 (1928)
Maentwrog, Cambrian Ballade No. 4 in C Op. 104 (early 1920s)
for piano Op. 105 (?)
Nocturnes Op. 121 (1939)
Fantasie Sonate No. 1 in A [The Haunted Palace]
Op. 124 (1940s?)
Extemporisation for pianola (1940s?)
Fantasie Sonate No. 2 in B minor [Destiny or The
Man of the Crowd] Op. 128 (1940s?)
Note: Holbrooke made and published piano transcriptions
of many of his orchestral works and some of the chamber music.