Josef HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
The Piano Music - Volume 2
Rhapsodie-Etudes Op.42: (1898-1905) No.5 “Une nuit ténébreuse” [2:49]; No.6 “Nocturne le Soir” [5:22]; No.7 “Toccata" [4:06]; No.8 “Fantoches” [2:46]; No.9 “Valse Fantasie” [3:13]; Nocturnes Op.121 (1939): No.3 “Juliet” [3:33]; No.5 “Bridal Ballad" [4:11]; No.6 “Bronwen” [4:49]; No.7 “Ariel” [3:20]; No.8 “Ulalume” [6:47]; Four Futurist Dances Op.66 (c.1919): No.1 “Leprechaun Dance” [1:28]; No.2 “Demons’ Dance” [5:05]; Celtic Suite Op.72 (c. 1917): No.1 “Uliam Dhoan” [3:02]; No.2 “All Thro’ the Night” [4:25]; No.3 “Song of the Bottle” [3:46]; No.4 “Strathspeys” [3:17]; Concert Valse, Talsarnau Op.79 (c. 1920) [5:57]
Panagiotis Trochopoulos (piano)
rec. the Library, Lilhac, France, 7-8 December 2009. DDD
Review of Volume 1 in the Holbrooke-Panagiotis-Cameo series
The satisfyingly detailed liner-notes are by Gareth Vaughan who also provided similar illumination for volume 1. He also trounces the spelling rapids in which so many aspiring Holbrooke scholars founder. That he accurately refers to Holbrooke’s great operatic trilogy as The Cauldron of Annwn (1909-1920) can be taken as the mark of a serious Holbrooke advocate.
The Rhapsodie-Etudes are dedicated to the great celebrity pianists of the day (1898-1905). Holbrooke keeps the listener on his toes occasionally juxtaposing lighter ideas and treatments with more poetic or grave material. In Fantoches there’s music-hall fantasy mixed with Rachmaninovian rhetoric. Attending the recent recording sessions for a forthcoming Dutton CD reminded me that he does this in other contexts too. While most of his dramatic tone poem The Pit and the Pendulum keeps a passionate grip there are several moments where the style relaxes rather a long way. An exciting virtuoso flare can be heard in the Chopin and the grand thunder and lightning of the Valse Fantaisie. At times Panagiotis does extraordinary things with this music where it careers along like a runaway pianola driven by Mussorgsky.
Ulalume - from the late set of Nocturnes dedicated to the violinist Lilian Athol - is the single largest piece here. It amounts to an extended epitome of the orchestral tone poem Ulalume written in the mid-1900s and amongst the earliest examples of his love for the writings of Edgar Allen Poe. It’s a plangently melancholy piece even though the full effect is best drawn down through hearing the orchestral version. One can only hope, now Somm are working their way through some of Beecham’s private recordings, that they will revive one of Tommy’s 1950s concert versions of Ulalume. For a modern recording of the full orchestral version you can turn to CPO and Howard Griffiths (CPO 777 442) and Marco Polo and Adrian Leaper (8.223446).
Leprechaun Dance is the first of the Futurist Dances – a set of four dedicated to Michel Fokine in which Holbooke lampoons the avant-garde of the mid-1910s. The composer wrote: “… these idiotic pieces of mine have been taken seriously by many a Bolshevik in music!” Tribute or satire; now it hardly matters. Perhaps the Dances were meant to be ambivalent. They are highly skilled in any event and enjoyable: from the angular Prokofiev japes of Leprechaun Dance to the bass-shackled ruminations and shocking dissonances of Demons’ Dance.
All thro the night seems awkward amid the expressionist moonlight of the second part of the Celtic Suite where it rubs shoulders with Men of Harlech. The disc ends with Talsarnau – still in a Welsh milieu. This began life as one of the Cambrian Ballades: (Dolgelley; Penmachno; Tan-Y-Grisiau). This concert waltz begins explosively in the grand manner and sweeps on through episodes of dreamy languor, elegance and purposeful dark energy. The piece carries the name of the town in Gwynedd, about a mile north of Holbrooke’s one-time residence at Harlech where he wrote the piece in 1917 as a relaxation from his work on the opera Bronwen. His Cambrian Cello Concerto is also down to be recorded by Dutton. How long must we wait for the Violin Concerto The Grasshopper and the Saxophone Concerto?
The tracks are not sequenced in the order listed in the header of this review. The Rhapsodie Etudes are in fact alternated with the Nocturnes until we reach the first two of the Futurist Dances. It seems we must await a Volume 3 before we can hear the last of the Futurist Dances. That’s a disappointment as in a minor way is the splitting up of these sequences within and across discs; good to see the Celtic Suite played without interruption. It’s a matter of small consequence but I would have preferred to have the Rhapsodie Etudes and Nocturnes played in the published sequence without interruption from other suites and sequences.
David Kent-Watson is as ambitious as ever. More Holbrooke can be expected including the first ever recording of the Second Piano Concerto Orient and more piano music (Mezzotints and the three Cambrian Ballades). Also slated for recording are various orchestral works previously unrecorded including the Dramatic Choral Symphony, Queen Mab and The Bells.
Beyond Holbrooke there are tentative plans for Maurice Blower’s Dennis Brain-inspired Horn Concerto, Dorothy Howell's piano concerto (her tone poem Lamia is at the 2010 Proms) and the piano concertos by Kenneth Leighton's (No.1) and the Concerto Symphonique by Baron D'Erlanger. As an example of what they can achieve do try their first orchestral collection.
I have high hopes of Cameo Classics in the rare music stakes. Their open-minded attitude to revivals and reputations does them great credit as does the acumen with which they choose their executant collaborators.
Meantime there is much here to enjoy from the tempestuous to the poetic.
Rob Barnett
Holbrooke continues to surprise - much to enjoy from the tempestuous to the poetic ... see Full Review