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Len Mullenger:

Reviews from other months
GUSTAV HOLST The Cloud Messenger, The Hymn of Jesus, Ave Maria, The Evening Watch, Seven Part Songs, A Choral Fantasia, A Dirge for Two Veterans, Ode to Death, This I have done for my true love, Four Part Songs.   Dellaa Jones (mezzo), LSO Chorus and Orchestra/ Hickox (Cloud & Hymn); The Finzi Singers/Paul Spicer (Ave & Evening-watch/This I have done[Rachel Wheatley -soprano], Four part songs); Patricia Rozario, Joyful Company of Singers, City of London Sinfonia/Hickox (7 part songs, Chorla Fantasia, Dirge, Ode) CHANDOS 2for1 CHAN 241-6




It really seems that Imogen Holst did her father a major disservice in downgrading the value of much of his music and actively preventing its performance or research. This was the première, and still the only, recording of The Cloud Messenger. I remember being totally amazed at the quality of this work was when I purchased the disc on its initial release. The Cloud Messenger preceded The Planets Suite and, having been delving into Bliss for the review of the Chandos Bliss set, I find Christopher Palmer quoting Bliss on his reaction to hearing this, which was the first music by Holst he had heard:

I found myself in thought transported quite without volition to a region of remoteness. I experienced a sensation akin to that which overwhelm one in mountains or on high plateau country ... not a sense of grandeur or size as of extreme distance from the centre of thing, as though the air one breathed were noticeably rarified.

That is a measure of the latent greatness that resided in this piece. In it one can already hear the mature Holst and it clearly anticipates parts of the Planets (although that was many years in gestation so it could be the Cloud Messenger that "borrowed"), the Hymn of Jesus and even his masterpiece Egdon Heath. It is rather too long and does not always support that length but it is also extremely beautiful. If you are not familiar with this piece it comes from Holst's Sanskrit period when he was also writing the Rig Vega choral hymns., which followed his discovery of R.W. Frazer's Silent Gods and Sun-steeped Lands.

Although the original booklet notes are provided in this set the texts are not. In summary, a Poet is separated from his wife and he asks a cloud to act as his messenger and take a message of love to his wife

Where e'er thou goest lonely wives, who pine in solitude with close-bound hair, will arise and go along the road. Thou bringest home their absent husbands, who will loosen their tresses and fill their hearts with joy

Oh yes, this is a sensual piece!

The original release also had the Hymn of Jesus, as here, but now we also get in addition Ave Maria and The Evening-watch - a measure of the excellent value these discs represent.

Christopher Palmer declares The Hymn of Jesus Holst's masterpiece and presents an eloquent case for the influence of the Wagner of Parsifal on Holst - the very thing Imogen despised! Holst taught himself Greek in order to read the Gospels in the original, just as he taught himself Sanskrit ( a rather more difficult undertaking I would surmise). The work is for two choruses, semi-chorus and orchestra. It opens with Vexilla Regis prodeunt ( The banners of the king advance on their way) followed by Pange lingua gloriosi (Tell my tongue, the glorious battle of the struggle) leading to a full choral outburst on Glory to Thee, Father. Exuberant dance rhythms are a strong feature in this piece which surprised the early audiences. Even recently on this web-site David Wright, in his review of a recording of Vaughan Williams Job, questioned the role of dance in religious music, but it is an important element in many religions e.g the Jewish services and many Eastern religions. A climax is reached on the words 'Ye who dance not, know not what we are knowing' before the plainsong Pange lingua returns. Hickox presents a full blooded account of it in this performance that brings out the full grandeur of the piece.

Ave Maria (Op 9) for double female chorus was his first published piece written in memory of his mother and dates from 1900 whereas The Evening-watch dates from 1924 and is in the style of the Choral Symphony.

Disc two contains, among other delightful things, the Choral Fantasia which is a setting of Bridge's Ode to Music for soprano solo, chorus, strings, brass and percussion. Ode to Music had been written for the 1895 bicentenary of the death of Henry Purcell and Holst had been one of the performers. There is an immensely powerful role for the organ, often solo, with the soprano floating aloft (it was written for Gloucester Cathedral) and the choir providing the responses. I still recall the revelation of hearing this for the first time. My response was better than one of the critics at the first performance who remarked

When Holst begins his new Choral Fantasia on a six-four on G and a C sharp below that, with an air of take it or leave it, one is inclined to leave it.

The soloist here is the soprano Partricia Rozario.

The Seven Part Songs are again setting of Bridge's texts for soprano, female voices and strings whereas the Dirge for Two Veterans is, naturally, a setting for male voices from Whitman's Drum Taps (Leaves of Grass) and in it can be heard echoes of Mars from The Planets. Staying with Whitman, who inspired a whole legion of British composers in the early part of this Century, Ode to Death is a setting from When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd (Leaves of Grass), the poem commemorating the death of Lincoln, and here enshrines the futility of the Great War. Again we hear undertones of The Planets (Saturn) demonstrating that work was not an isolated event.

The CD is completed with This I have done for my true love from 1916 and the student work Four Part Songs (1894)

So, once again, Chandos have given us a superb conspectus of an English composer, whom, for many, may have been thought of as a one-work composer like Dukas. If that sounds like you, then here is a reasonably priced introduction to some of the greatest English music that will reward you many times its modest outlay.


Len Mullenger



Rejoice ye Dead where'ere your spirits dwell

see also article on The Planets


Len Mullenger


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