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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Quintet in a minor for piano, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, Op. 3, H.11 (1896) [17.40]
3 Pieces (Fantasiestücke) for oboe, 2 violins, viola and cello, Op. 2 (1896, rev. 1910) [11.29]
Terzetto for flute, oboe and clarinet in two movements (originally for flute, oboe and viola 1925, later arranged for 3 woodwinds) [10.01]
Wind Quintet in A-flat major for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon, Op. 14, H.67 (1903) [14.46]
Sextet in E minor for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, violin, viola and cello (c. 1900) [25.37]
Ensemble Arabesques
rec. September 2016, Friedrich-Ebert-Halle Hamburg, Germany
FARAO CLASSICS B108098 [79.55]

The chamber music of Gustav Holst is a category of his music that I rarely encounter on recital programmes. With the exception of Phantasy Quartet on British Folk Songs and Terzetto all of Holst’s chamber works are relatively early written between 1893-1906; a period which includes his student years at the Royal College of Music (RCM). Recognition is due to Farao Classics for this release by Ensemble Arabesques comprising of five of Holst’s chamber works which should assist circulation to a wider audience especially in such impressive performances.

Opening the programme is the four movement Quintet in A minor for piano and winds an early work composed in 1896 whilst Holst was studying at the RCM. The Ensemble Arabesques relishes great care on the work and underlines its breezy and optimistic disposition. Especially striking is the reflective Adagio strongly imbued with melancholy. The fine control demonstrated by pianist SooJin Anjou is wholly attuned to the spirit of the score. The 3 Pieces (Fantasiestücke) scored for oboe and string quartet were written in 1896 and later revised in 1910. This is a most attractive short work that opens with a good-humoured March followed by an elegant Minuet and a vivacious and cheerful Scherzo. The Terzetto (Trio) is possibly his best known chamber work. It was originally scored for flute, oboe and viola in 1925 when Holst was around fifty-one years old. This is the later arrangement that Holst prepared for flute, oboe and clarinet. In this two movement work the players clearly savour the lovely interplay between the three woodwind instruments. The highly agreeable Allegretto contains an undertow of wistfulness and the contrasting Un poco vivace movement radiates a carefree mood.

The Wind Quintet in A-flat major was written around the time Holst gave up his work as an orchestral player to focus on composition. Thought lost, the score came to light seventy-five years later in 1978 at the Surrey History Centre. This beautifully written work is a flowing, melodic and mostly sunlit score. My highlight is the warm hearted if short Minuet with the swirling character of a folk-dance. The final work on the release is the impressive Sextet in E minor for woodwind and strings dating from around 1896-1900. According to information in the liner notes and the press release it was recently discovered in the archives of the British Library, so this is the recording première of the score. It is a glorious, rewarding and extremely agreeable work. The generous and warm opening Moderato is heartfelt. It is followed by the infectious dance rhythms of a high spirited Scherzo. Next come an introspective Adagio imbued with melancholy that feels like a lament for a loved one. The delightful closing movement is a theme and variations.

Ensemble Arabesques is formed by members of three Hamburg orchestras the Philharmonisches Staatsorchester, NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester and Hamburger Symphoniker. The ensemble specialises in playing rarely heard works and this Holst programme certainly fits the bill. These are performances of great accomplishment. I find the sound, recorded at Friedrich-Ebert-Halle, Hamburg, rather too close for my taste, resulting in over brightness and some blurring in the forte passages. Carsten Dürer is the author of the helpful booklet essay.

Recordings of Holst chamber music are rather thin on the ground and this release is a welcome and rewarding addition to the catalogue.

Michael Cookson

Previous review: Stephen Greenbank