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CD & Download: Court Lane Music


Imogen HOLST (1907-1984)
Phantasy Quartet (1928) [10:00]
Duo for viola and piano (1968) [9:55]
String Trio No. 1 (1944) [14:40]
The Fall of the Leaf (1962) [7:50]
Sonata for violin and cello (1930) [21:28]
String Quintet (1982) [14:19]
Court Lane Music: Simon Hewitt Jones (violin); David Worswick (violin); Tom Hankey (viola); Oliver Coates (cello); Thomas Hewitt Jones (cello); Daniel Swain (piano)
rec. All Saints Church, West Dulwich, August 2007. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

For the wider musical public Imogen Holst is known, if at all, as the daughter of Gustav Holst. She was the stern sentinel of her father’s musical heritage. She will also perhaps be recognised as the conductor of her father’s more ‘neo-classical’ works on two Lyrita LPs of the late 1960s. These have been reissued on CD (Lyrita SRCD 223 and SRCD 336). In fact she was also a composer of some distinction who, so far as the conventions of her day would have it, laboured under two clouds: that she was a woman and that she was the child of a great composer. This disc opens the door into her musical legacy.
The style span here encompassed by her music is wide. Imogen Holst's journey was from poetic-ecstatic pastoral to a taut and succinct economy of expression. The lyric impulse remains a constant. This gift for the singing line is at its most candid in the Phantasy Quartet of 1928. This Cobbett prize piece will gladden the heart of lovers of early Howells chamber music. It captures the shivering seductive green murmur of the English early summer yet expressed in an almost Gallic ecstasy. You must hear this if you enjoy the Howells Piano Quartet.
The compact 1982 String Quintet was written 54 years later. The string textures are just as carefully calculated but the language is more reserved. Intriguing to hear the careful English countryside skip in the step for the Scherzo. This is so redolent of Britten's Simple Symphony and Bridge's Sir Roger de Coverley.  The denser emotions of the final Theme and Variations are piercing and its emotional world has a philosophical reserve about it.
In 1968 she wrote a compact little Duo for viola and piano. This is energetic and Hindemithian - clear as spring-water yet shot through with a moonlit Schoenbergian dissonance and grotesquerie.
In 1944 she wrote her First String Trio for the Dartington Trio. It is a work in four movements – alive with stony, spiky and searing dissonance borne down with foreboding. There are moments here when one thinks of the Viennese-style works of Frank Bridge such as the Piano Trio no.2 and the last two string quartets. A more chiming Englishry can be heard in the andante finale although this soon coagulates and becomes acerbic and probing.
The Fall of the Leaf is for solo cello and is based on a tune from the Fitzwilliam Virginal book.  The dedicatee was Pamela Hind O'Malley. Steven Isslerlis speaks of the work's ‘quiet poetry' and this catches its severe yet singing essence rather well. It is in five miniature movements.
Two years after the Phantasy Quartet came the three movement Sonata for Violin and Cello. It is as if Imogen Holst has put direct-speaking English pastoralism back into the toy box. This work moves into Bartók territory and is memorable for marked rhythmic attack and for the lichen-hung reflective-meditative Adagio. It was written in Vienna.
The well-rehearsed notes are by Christopher Tinker. The playing is done with much feeling and is always articulate. You will however have to make allowances for the deep intakes of breath from the players - it speaks of their emotional engagement but some will find it irritating.
I hope that there will be more Imogen Holst recordings. This cross-section of her chamber works is evidence of her Continental credentials cross-affecting her early predilection for rural idylls.
Rob Barnett


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