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Joseph HOLBROOKE (1878-1958)
Music for piano - Volume 1
Rhapsodie-Etudes, Op.42 Nos. 1-4 and 10 [17.00]
Nocturnes, Op.121 Nos. 1-2 and 4 [12.52]
Barrage, Op.78 [4.14]
Fantasie-Sonate No. 1, Op.124 The haunted palace [14.39]
Fantasie-Sonate No. 2, Op.128 Destiny [15.46]
First Barcarolle, Op.17/6 [7.45]
Panagiotis Trochopoulos (piano)
rec. South Downs College, UK, 29-30 May 2008

Music for piano - Volume 2
Rhapsodie-Etudes, Op.42 Nos. 5-9 [18.36]
Nocturnes, Op.121 Nos. 3 and 5-8 [22.40]
Celtic Suite, Op.72 [14.30]
Concert Valse, Op.79 Talsarnau [5.57]
Panagiotis Trochopoulos (piano)
rec. Lilhac Library, France, 7-8 December 2009

Reinvigorated by listening to Holbrooke’s 1917 Phantasy String Quartet, Op.25 on EM Records very recently, it was enjoyable to lend an ear to the two discs of piano music recorded by Pangiotis Trochopoulos on Cameo Classics.

Holbrooke recorded as a pianist in the days of acoustic 78s so it’s no surprise to find challenging and exciting fare on offer. What is a surprise is the decision to split the sequence of Op.42 Rhapsodie-Etudes, intermingling the Op.121 Nocturnes amongst them, and then adding some other piquant novelties to both discs for reasons of variety. I’m not sure this will meet universal acclaim amongst the cognoscenti, but I can live with it, even though it requires tracking labours if you want to sequence them, and a visit to your unit to eject a disc if you want to play the sets though sequentially.

The pierrot and music hall were never too far away when Holbrooke’s lighter effusions are to be heard. Such topical currents are embedded in the first of the Op.42 set, though contextualised in the form of late nineteenth-century concert virtuosity. The air of mild subversion serves only to heighten enjoyment. One of the consequences of interfiling the two sets of music is that there are mordant commentaries between them. The quietly brooding first Nocturne, for example, is followed by the grandly loquacious second Rhapsodie-Etude which itself capriciously prepares the listener for the slow charm of the Donegal Nocturne. The Op.42 set tends to look somewhat quizzically on its lineage; there is more than a hint of the raised eyebrow about the third in the set. Holbrooke was certainly setting the bar high in dedicating the fourth to Leopold Godowsky, though its scampering brilliance and terpsichorean drive do indeed require a technician of the highest order. Meanwhile Holbrooke interleaves his Dylan theme from The Birds of Rhiannon in the fourth Nocturne, Elan.

The first disc includes a poundingly dissonant Barrage, Op.78, a kind of Wyndham Lewis in music. It’s the nearest Holbrooke gets to Antheil, though the latter is more motoric, and Holbrooke does include a more ruminative pocket. The later Phantasie-Sonate No.1 is a quarter–of-an-hour piece bristling with interest. Full of moods and movements it’s partly predicated on Francophile lines, with elements of music hall once again, but it is driven on by a Lisztian spine. The second Fantasie-Sonate, called Destiny is a real study in tensile drama, and it shows appreciation of Rachmaninovian chording but couched in a super-heated 1930s environment. Amidst this drama don’t overlook the hauntingly beautiful Barcarolle, Op.17 No.6.

Disc two reprises the programming principles and note too that the two sets of Rhapsodie-Etudes and Nocturnes are not, in any case, presented in strict numerical order in Cameo’s running order. Pianists looking for a novel piece of descriptive virtuosity might like to look over Op.42 No.5, Une nuit Ténébreuse, an increasingly vehement and virtuosic rain study. Then again the suggestive impressionist hues of Nocturne le Soir (Op.42 No.6) would light up many a recital. These elements of influence; the nineteenth century world of Henselt, say, and the emerging French modernists are joined by the salon and the populist in his music - the third Nocturne is a specific example of the light muse in his writing. The Toccata (Op.42 No.7) was one of his own favourites and its treacherous virtuosity must have been a real challenge. What a pity that no one thought to sponsor recordings of Holbrooke playing his own music in the 1920s or 1930s. The music reflective of his deep immersion in the writings of Poe is possessed of a very particular intensity, not least the haunting Ulalume, the Nocturne No.8, which is excellently played by Trochopoulos. The Celtic Suite is a particularly enjoyable example of his expressive warmth, and frolicsome vitality.

The recorded sound is a little variable, a bit boxy, but never less than listenable, especially when the repertoire is so rare on disc. Gareth Vaughan is the expert annotator. Given that many of these pieces are making premiere appearances, for a pianophile these two discs make for a splendid and representative Holbrooke selection.
Jonathan Woolf

Previous reviews
Volume 1: Rob Barnett ~~ Paul Corfield Godfrey
Volume 2: Rob Barnett ~~ Paul Corfield Godfrey



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