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Gustav Holst ó The Collectorís Edition
Track-listing see below
EMI CLASSICS 4404712 [6 CDS: 73:54 + 76:26 + 74:35 + 71:18 +77:05 + 75:46]

EMI Classicsí ĎCollectorís Editioní has now reached Gustav Holst. Pausing only briefly to wonder quietly what a Collectorís Edition actually is ó does it imply a specialist or an omnivore? ó a look at the track-listing will show some of the labelís old favourites repackaged in a 6 CD box.
The first disc disinters Boultís familiar 1978 recording of The Planets, his last studio traversal of the work he had premiered privately sixty years before. What this recording may lack in galvanic drive, it gains in harmonic pointing and inner voice detail ó note especially how he brings out the myriad voicings in Jupiter. In fact it possesses a breadth thatís not compromised in any way by concession to the conductorís age. The companion works are Previnís The Perfect Fool and Egdon Heath, taped in 1974. Some have found the conductor less than wholly gripping in this latter work but I canít say that I do. In fact I find him genuinely atmospheric in much the same way that he is vivacious and colourful in The Perfect Fool.
Four conductors share disc space in CD2. The light charms of A Somerset Rhapsody and Brook Green Suite are in the capable hands of Norman del Mar and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. The pastoral robustness of the former owes much to Vaughan Williams. The recordings were made in 1980. Yehudi Menuhin directs A Fugal Concerto with Jonathan Snowden, the flautist, and oboist David Theodore. They are both fine soloists and despite its slightly forbidding title, the work is largely genial and very short. The earliest recording comes next, Malcolm Sargent conducting the BBC Symphony in Beni Mora, in 1956. This is a veritable Kingsway Hall Special, a really superb production overseen by David Bicknell. Sargentís St. Paulís Suite was recorded nine years later and its breezy and affectionate charms are well realised by a conductor still largely underestimated. Charles Groves was charged with the Ode to Death and Hymns from the Rig Veda ó 2nd Group. The 1977 recordings stand up well. Groves sustains the Funeral Chant from the Hymns with expert pacing and its Ravelian clarity is excellently projected. The Ode to Death should be far better known. Its powerful panegyric finds a perfect conduit in Groves and the LPO.
The third disc is largely in the hands of the composerís daughter, Imogen. Her famous recording of A Choral Fantasia is rightly here, with Janet Baker the outstanding soloist and Ralph Downes the organist. Imogen Holst adroitly draws out the military quality embedded in the score, its Mars-like stridency as well as its more requiem-inclining paragraphs. She conducts the Central Band of the RAF in the Suites for Military Band and explores the Baroque elements of the first and the folkloric affiliations of the second, not least Holstís beloved Dargason in the finale. She brings particular warmth to the Nocturne of A Moorside Suite, this time with the BMC (Oxford) Band in a 1965 recording. For Holstís impressionist masterpiece, Hammersmith, Wing Commander J.L. Wallace conducts the Central Band. Psalm 86 is performed by Ian Partridge and Ralph Downes and they bring a beautiful gravity to this lovely work, which prefigures something of Finziís songs yet to come.
Choruses dominate disc four, in a long sequence of vocal and choral music. Highlights here include the powerful Whitman setting, A Dirge for Two Veterans, sung by the Baccholian Singers of London, played by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble and conducted by Ian Humphris. The Eight Canons are little expressive gems, medieval Latin texts heard in the Waddell translations. Amongst the Baccholian Singers in this recording one finds the names of Ian Partridge, Rogers Covey-Crump, Paul Elliott and Terry Edwards. An older singer, Frederick Harvey, with Gerald Moore, performs Varuna from the Vedic Hymns and the second of the Three Carols, the solid, no-nonsense Christmas Song, is sung by the Bach Choir with the Jacques Orchestra of blessed memory, directed by David Willcocks.
From small pieces and choral extracts, though by no means negligible, disc five presents larger-scale offerings. Charles Grovesís well-remembered 1977 The Hymn of Jesus and Adrian Boultís Choral Symphony (1974) are the classic focal points. Both were recommendable for many reasons and continue to press strong claims. Grovesí chorus master was Richard Hickox and he ensures bite and clarity with the LSO Chorus. The rhythmic dance of the concluding Give ye heed is especially fine, as is the magically distant ending. Boult has Felicity Palmer as his fine soprano soloist in an undisputed classic of the Holst discography.
The final disc explores Holst and opera. The Wandering Scholar was edited by Britten and Imogen Holst, with a libretto by Clifford Bax. But for increasing illness Britten might have conducted for the recording but in the event Steuart Bedford took the honours. The cast of four has a rare old time with this bucolic chamber opera, with Robert Tearís distinctive and penetrating nasality especially notable. At the Boarís Head was recorded in 1981, with David Atherton conducting the Royal Liverpool. The cast is led by Philip Langridge as Prince Hal, and John Tomlinson as Falstaff. The all-star singers also include Elise Ross, Felicity Palmer, David Wilson-Johnson, Richard Suart and Michael George. The music is enviably good humoured, and thereís sufficient variety in the dance and folk sequences to keep ennui at bay. The orchestral contributions are occasionally raucous - in a good and an appropriate way.
There are no texts or libretti, and the notes are useful but functional. Given the compactness and the price bracket, I think no self-respecting Holst admirer should be without these recordings, especially, as here, in a tempting, space saving box.
Jonathan Woolf

See also Rob Barnettís review
CD 1
The Planets Ė Suite, Op. 32/H125 48.33
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult with Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
The Perfect Fool, Op. 39/H150 10.42
Egdon Heath, Op. 47/H172 (Homage to Hardy) 14.45
London Symphony Orchestra/Andrť Previn
CD 2
A Somerset Rhapsody, Op. 21 No. 2/H87 9.41
Brook Green Suite, H190 6.25
Bournemouth Sinfonietta/Norman del Mar
A Fugal Concerto, Op. 40 No. 2/H152 8.33
Jonathan Snowden, flute - David Theodore, oboe
English Chamber Orchestra/Yehudi Menuhin
Beni Mora (Oriental Suite), Op. 29 No. 1/H114 14.09
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
St. Paulís Suite, Op. 29 No. 2/H118 12.39
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Malcolm Sargent
Hymns from the Rig Veda Ė 2nd Group, Op. 26 No. 2/H98 13.52
London Symphony Chorus, womenís voices
Ode to Death, Op. 38/H144 (Whitman) 11.14
London Symphony Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves
CD 3
Psalm 86, H117 No. 1 8.00
Ian Partridge, tenor - Ralph Downes, organ
A Choral Fantasia, Op. 51/H177 17.14
Dame Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano - Ralph Downes, organ
The Purcell Singers
English Chamber Orchestra/Imogen Holst
First Suite in E flat, Op. 28 No. 1/H1059.57
Second Suite in F, Op. 28 No. 2/H106 11.36
Central Band of the Royal Air Force/Imogen Holst
A Moorside Suite, H173 13.55
BMC (Oxford) Band/Imogen Holst
Hammersmith, Op. 52/ H178 13.22
Central Band of the Royal Air Force/Wing Commander J.L. Wallace
CD 4
Hymns from the Rig Veda Ė 4th Group, Op. 26 No. 4/H100
III. Hymn to Manas 3.47
The Homecoming, H120 (Hardy) 6.02
Baccholian Singers of London
A Dirge for Two Veterans, H121 (Whitman) 6.15
Baccholian Singers of London
Philip Jones Brass Ensemble/Ian Humphris
Six Choral Folk-Songs (arr.), H136
Six Choruses, Op. 53/H186 (Medieval Latin, trans. Waddell)
Baccholian Singers of London
English Chamber Orchestra/Ian Humphris
Eight Canons, H187 (Medieval Latin, trans. Waddell)
3. The Fields of Sorrow 1.02
4. Davidís Lament for Jonathan 1.20
6. Truth of all Truth 3.56
Baccholian Singers of London
Bring us in good ale. Op. 34 No. 4/H131 (anon) 1.00
The Kingís Singers
Vedic Hymns Ė 1st Group, Op. 24/H90
II. Varuna 3.23
Frederick Harvey, baritone - Gerald Moore, piano
Three Festival Choruses, Op. 36a/H134
II. Turn back O Man (C. Bax) 4.19
Choir of Chichester Cathedral/Richard Seal, organ/John Birch
Lullay my liking. Op. 34 No. 2/H129 (anon) 3.43
Arranged for boysí voices by Imogen Holst
London Boy Singers/Jonathan Steele
Three Carols/H133
II. Christmas Song: Personent Hodie (Piae Cantiones) 2.40
Bach Choir/Jacques Orchestra/Sir David Willcocks
Hymn: In the bleak mid-winter (English Hymnal, 1906)
(based on poem by Christina Rossetti) 3.57
Rodney Christian Fellowship Festival Choir
Edwin Bates, organ/Rodney Smith Bishton
CD 5
The Hymn of Jesus, Op. 37/H140
(Apocryphal Acts of St. John, trans. Holst) 22.04
Choristers of St. Paulís Cathedral Choir - London Symphony Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves
Short Festival Te Deum, H145 4.38
London Symphony Chorus
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Charles Groves
Choral Symphony, Op. 41/H155 (Keats) 49.55
Felicity Palmer, soprano - London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
CD 6
The Wandering Scholar, Op. 50/H176 24.24 Chamber Opera in one act
Louis (a farmer) Michael Rippon, baritone
Alison (his wife) Norma Burrowes, soprano
Father Philippe. Michael Langdon, bass
Pierre (a wandering scholar). Robert Tear, tenor
English Opera Group/English Chamber Orchestra/Steuart Bedford
At the Boarís Head, Op. 42/H156 51.00 A musical interlude in one act.
Prince Hal. Philip Langridge, tenor
Falstaff. John Tomlinson, bass
Hostess (Mistress Quickly). Elise Ross, soprano
Doll Tearsheet. Felicity Palmer, mezzo-soprano
Pistol. David Wilson-Johnson, baritone
Peto. Peter Hall, tenor
Bardolph. Richard Suart, baritone
Poins. Michael George, bass
Menís voices of the Liverpool Philharmonic Choir
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/David Atherton