This is a fantastic CD. I must admit that I would not normally
be over-enthusiastic about wind chamber music. It is just not
a genre that has grabbed me. However, this disc is special: it
has impressed me for three key reasons. Firstly I had never heard
of the music of the composer/pianist Ernst Pauer. But his Quintet
dating from 1856 is full of delights and interesting music. It
is a little gem that has been waiting for a very long time before
being discovered. Secondly, the Gustav Holst Wind Quintet
presents a style of music that manages to balance relatively traditional
late-romantic melodies with a breezy mood derived from a subtle
appreciation of a somewhat bucolic landscape. It was written before
the composer discovered the folk-song tradition, yet in many ways
this work - large chunks of it - seems to epitomise the English
Pastoral tradition. And lastly the Gordon Jacob Sextet
is a fine example of a work that should be in the public domain.
In fact, if it was by a German or Austrian it would most certainly
be part of the repertoire. This work is an exploration of interesting
harmonies and melodies that have an instant appeal without in
any way being clichéd or sentimental.
a listening strategy, I would suggest that each piece is taken
individually: at least a good gap ought to be allowed between
the works. In that way the respective merits of each work can
be understood and savoured. There is little in common between
these three pieces – except for the instrumentation. The Holst
and the Jacob have been recorded previously – however it would
appear that the Pauer may well be a ‘first recording’.
had never heard of the Viennese composer Ernst Pauer. However,
he was well known in London in the mid-to-late 1800s. The programme
notes say that he won the hearts and minds of Londoners after
his first few appearances. In fact, such was the enthusiasm
of the musical public, he decided to come and live in the UK
after his first performance in the capital. In due course, he
became a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music. Interestingly,
a brief look at his entry in Grove does not reveal much about
his compositions: there is no list of his works printed there.
However the present Quintet was composed in and around
1856 and was eventually given a performance at the Crystal Palace.
Stylistically, it owes much to the music of Beethoven and Hummel
although I did detect something of the joie de vivre of
Arthur Sullivan in some of the passages. There are four movements
– an allegro con brio, a menuetto, an adagio
and a concluding allegro which really is a ‘big finish’.
The adagio is memorable for the reflective woodwind writing
that explores the ‘darker’ timbres of those instruments. The
opening of the work is a big flourish that perhaps promises
a little more than it delivers. However, the loveliest part
of this Quintet is the minuet and ‘charming Viennese’
trio. It is music that haunts the mind long after the
notes have ceased.
Holst work is an eye-opener. It is not cutting-edge stuff and
is probably not to be regarded as one of the composer’s masterpieces
or even ‘typical’ of his style. Certainly, listeners should
not expect The Planets! But that said, it is a pure
pleasure to listen to. This is one of the early ‘horrors’ that
Holst wrote after he had shrugged off the influence of Wagner
and before he adopted a more astringent style of writing. The
Quintet was composed around 1903 although it was apparently
never played. In 1914 Holst sent the work to a certain oboist
called Albert Fransella, who either ignored or mislaid the score.
It remained ‘lost’ until the manuscript was discovered in a
pile of sheet music in 1952. It was to be another thirty years
before the work was given its premiere by the Nash Ensemble.
the ‘pastoral’ mood of this piece is best heard in the opening
‘allegretto moderato’: it is possible to detect a little
bit of ‘English Impressionism’ in these pages – although the
sheer tunefulness is never abandoned. The ‘minuet’ is
a little more academic: the composer makes use of ‘canon’ as
a constructional device. The sleeve-notes suggest that this
is reminiscent of a ‘stately seventeenth-century dance’. After
a slightly more introspective ‘adagio’ the work concludes
with a witty and light-hearted ‘air and variations’.
Taken as a whole, this is an attractive work that should be
seen as an integral part of Holst’s catalogue - even if it is
not entirely typical of his normally accepted canon.
Jacob’s Sextet is not only the latest piece on this CD
– coming nearly a century after the Pauer - it is certainly
the longest and the most profound of these works. It is very
easy to imagine Jacob as a kind of ‘also-ran’ in the twentieth
century musical world. Perhaps he is seen as a somewhat ‘conservative’
composer who was a pale reflection of Vaughan Williams. Certainly,
this musical ‘conservatism’ seemed to ensure that his music
largely fell out of fashion. One cause for his relative obscurity
is the sheer volume of music he composed – with over 700 works
to his credit. Maybe it is just too much to get ones head around.
However I would challenge the listener to hear his First
Symphony and be anything other than moved and impressed.
The same must be said of the present Sextet.
programme notes are right in suggesting that this work typifies
Jacob’s “predilection for melodiousness and harmony”. However,
for my ears it is the formal structure, the clever balance between
the five movements, that is the most successful part of this
work. The opening ‘elegiac prelude’ sets the mood of this work
with a short unison statement for wind – however the piano provides
a contrasting comment on this theme. This is truly magical music.
I accept that there is a touch of an invocation of the English
landscape here – but this is no ‘cowpat’ music. There is a depth
here that both inspires and impresses. The ‘scherzo’ is a tour
de force that is balanced by a more reflective ‘trio’ section.
The central movement is the Cortege which is perhaps
the heart of the work – at least it is the most melancholic.
I certainly enjoyed the ‘minuet and trio’ which according to
Trevor Hold (The Musical Times, Volume 134, January 1993,
page 42) sounds as if it has come from a concatenation
of the pens of Maurice Ravel and Ralph Vaughan Williams especially
‘rondo and epilogue’ burst in on the scene with a shout of protest
from the French horn. However, after some lively moments the
music settles a bit before a gorgeous tune emerges, once again
from the horn. The skittish mood returns only to be banished
by a haunting epilogue.
only partly agree with Trevor Hold’s summing up of this work
– he writes that, “Like so much of Jacob's music, though it
is technically assured, no great personality emerges”. On the
one hand, he is correct in suggesting that to most listeners
there is not a defined ‘Jacob’ style – as opposed say to Finzi
or Malcolm Arnold or Vaughan Williams. Yet I would suggest that
this is largely due to the fact that listeners have relatively
few opportunities to hear Jacob’s music – either on CD or in
the concert hall or recital room. Certainly, I can see a continuity
of style and substance between this present Sextet and
the First Symphony which I listened to the other day
as ‘preparation’ for this review.
Sextet is a minor masterpiece and deserves our attention.
The performance by the Hexagon Ensemble is a beautiful and impressive
version of this fine and ultimately moving work.
suppose that the disc could have been a little longer, but that
is a small complaint. The sound quality of the CD is excellent:
I always feel that like the piano, wind instruments can be a little
problematic on ‘disc’. The playing is both confident and sympathetic,
with the sound-scape of each work been addressed as appropriate.
It is an inspiring recital. The programme notes could have been
a little more fulsome, but I guess there is [at present] little
material available for a scholarly discussion of these three works.