MusicWeb International One of the most grown-up review sites around   2022
 57,903 reviews
   and more ... and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here
Acte Prealable Polish CDs

Presto Music CD retailer
Founder: Len Mullenger                                    Editor in Chief:John Quinn             

Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

Holst essential 4445492
Support us financially by purchasing from

Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
The Essential Holst
rec. 1961-1992
Presto CD
DECCA 444 549-2 [2 CDs: 149]

In the 1950s Decca, quite apart from their exclusive sponsorship of the music of Benjamin Britten, displayed a considerable concern for the recording of music by other British composers, most notably in the complete cycle of Vaughan Williams symphonies under Sir Adrian Boult supervised by the composer. And from the late 1950s they expanded their field of cultivation to include the music of Gustav Holst, beginning with an innovative and thrilling version of The Planets from the Vienna Philharmonic under Herbert von Karajan, and then extending their catalogue further with a compilation of three relative Holst rarities under Boult (sponsored by the British Council) and a whole raft of issues of even rarer music supervised by Holst’s daughter Imogen on their associated Argo label, which included such gems as the complete opera Savitri with Janet Baker and the twelve Wolfe songs with Britten and Pears. And there, possibly in the light of discouraging sales, they allowed the matter to rest. The baton passed to Lyrita, who took over the production of orchestral rarities conducted by Sir Adrian, Imogen Holst and (later) David Atherton; and to EMI, who produced some valuable recordings conducted by Sir Charles Groves as well as the two operas At the Boar’s Head and The wandering scholar.
With the advent of the CD era, Decca assembled a double-disc set of many of these less well-known Holst pieces, including the complete contents of their British Council LP conducted by Boult and samples from their Argo recordings including the complete Savitri. This has already been reviewed on this site by Stephen Hall and Rob Barnett; but this Presto reissue is of a slightly different compilation. Savitri and some of the partsongs have now been jettisoned, along with Christopher Hogwood’s Fugal Concerto, to be replaced by Sir Georg Solti conducting The Planets, although only the retained Hogwood St Paul’s Suite derives from a digital master recording. While one can understand the desire to appeal to the taste of the general public by the inclusion of Holst’s best-known work The Planets, the loss of Savitri from the compilation is particularly distressing. The more so since Decca actually have a better (and digital) reading of that score in their catalogue in the shape of the masterly interpretation of Charles Dutoit, with its magnificent organ pedals in Saturn comprehensively outclassing even the best efforts of the Decca engineers for Solti. Maybe that later recording was not available for mid-price reissue at the time of the original release of this set.

The three Boult items – a sparkling and poised account of the Perfect Fool ballet music, a sombre and rather reserved Egdon Heath (there is perhaps more light and shade in the music than we find here) and a resonant Hymn of Jesus – are all well-known items nowadays, and hardly seem to have been out of the catalogues since their original issues nearly fifty years ago. The Hymn of Jesus in particular must have presented a real challenge to recording engineers at the time with its extremes of dynamic range, but the Decca team rose to the occasion and the results remain crystal clear on CD – and better-balanced than some much more recent recordings, such as Sir Mark Elder’s live performance on the Hallé label; the female semi-chorus is properly distant here, but remains distinct and perfectly tuned even in their final diminuendo. Imogen Holst’s traversal of some of Holst’s choral music is similarly clear-toned in terms of the singing, but some of this music really demands a rather richer tone such as might be provided by a larger body of vocalists. The intricate counterpoint of the early Ave Maria, despite its almost mediaeval asceticism, would seem to be better served by a perversely Victorian/Edwardian body of amateur singers such as Holst would have had at his disposal at the time. Nor is Osian Ellis’s filigree accompaniment to the Rig Veda hymns sufficiently far forward to allow us to appreciate his delicacy of touch.

The clarity of the recording in Solti’s Planets on the other hand cannot however be faulted, despite its analogue origins. Indeed it is perhaps the very crispness of his response to the score, and the realisation of his intentions by the orchestra, which robs the performance of the final degree of spontaneity. There are also places, such as the tricky passage for the tenor tuba solo in Mars, where the balance seems to go awry, with the brass rather too recessed in the mixture, sounding as though coming from a distance; Karajan manages the problem considerably better in Vienna, with his Wagnerian tenor tuba blaring away menacingly. It is not stated anywhere in the CD material where the recording was made, but it was apparently in London’s Kingsway Hall; the organ sounds far from clear either in its subterranean rumblings in Mars and Saturn, let alone in its glorious glissando in Uranus. But the chorus is well distanced in Neptune and the performance as a whole, although not in the top rank of contenders in a work that has been exceptionally well served on record, is far from inconsiderable.

The comparative rarity of Holst’s Moorside Suite in its original version for brass band is well served by the Grimethorpe players, but I have more considerable doubts about the St Paul ensemble under Christopher Hogwood in the St Paul’s Suite which, as the booklet material clearly indicates, was written for string orchestra. Here there are plentiful contributions from wind players to be heard in the mix, with no explanation of the edition that has been employed nor on what authority Holst’s original scoring has been so blatantly ignored (even though the final movement may have been first conceived for military band). The arrangement has not even been very idiomatically made, with some solo lines that could conceivably have been transferred to wind instruments left in the hands of solo strings. I cannot find that these alterations to Holst’s scorings have been the subject of any previous critical comment (except an oblique reference in Fanfare to what is described as a “larger orchestration”), but it is surely a misrepresentation of the composer’s intentions.

So, what we have in this Presto reissue is a useful compendium of Holst’s music, designed presumably to attract purchasers for The Planets who wish to explore further the music of a composer whose popularity seems to rest so predominantly on one single work. And as such it will prove highly serviceable. But what we really want, preferably in time for the 150th anniversary of the composer’s birth in 2024, is a complete conspectus of the musical output of a composer whose total achievement is still shamefully neglected. The reasons for this are manifold, not least the deliberate attempt by Imogen Holst to suppress many of her father’s earlier scores as unworthy of the mature genius; but the lack of a recording of such works as Hecuba’s Lament is absurd, let alone the absence of complete sets of the choral Hymns from the Rig Veda (especially the thrilling first and last of the fourth set, still totally unrepresented in the catalogues), the late and unconventional Welsh folksong arrangements (preferably in the original language), the mediaeval lyrics with their experimental construction and treatment of tonality, a properly uncut Perfect Fool (without the multitude of ridiculous and unnecessary snips inflicted on the score in the Groves broadcast issued last year on Lyrita), and the early opera Sita, where the availability of a couple of extracts only whets the appetite for more. At one time it appeared that Chandos might be stepping up to the plate, with a Holst edition to challenge their sterling work on behalf of Walton; but the death of Richard Hickox mid-way through the sessions for the Choral Symphony (although the baton was valiantly taken up by Sir Andrew Davis) effectively seems to have scuppered any such project. How about it, Chandos? There are still a couple of years to go.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

The Planets, Op 32*
The Perfect Fool, Op 39: ballet music+
Egdon Heath, Op 47+
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti*: Sir Adrian Boult+
rec. 1978*: 1961+
St Paul’s Suite, Op 29/2
St Paul Chamber Orchestra/Christopher Hogwood
rec. 1992
A Moorside Suite
Grimethorpe Colliery Band/Elgar Howarth
rec. 1976
Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, Op 26: Third Group*
The Evening Watch, Op 43/1
Ave Maria, Op 9b
This have I done for my true love, Op 34/1
Purcell Singers/Imogen Holst with Osian Ellis, harp*
rec. 1965*: 1966
The Hymn of Jesus, Op 37
BBC Chorus and Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. 1962

Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount