Holst Orchestral Works Volume No. 1

February 6, 2009

chsa5069Many can only think of The Planets, a hugely popular work when the name Holst is mentioned. One might get the impression that this was the only composition he ever did if you browse the CD section of a Borders or Barnes and Noble which offers a multitude of different orchestras performing this wonderful work. Holst actually has over 200 cataloged compositions including operas, ballets, wind and brass band suites, songs, fugues, as well as beautiful smaller orchestral works. He wrote many compositions for his students as he taught music at St. Paul’s Girls School as well as James Allen’s Girls’ School in London and Morley College. His general attitude of the press and people (he had a card that said “I do not hand out my autograph”) likely contributed to his lack of popularity. Couple this with his bad eyes, lungs, digestion, and a concussion from falling off the podium which kept him from conducting as much as he could have and one can see his lack of popularity save for The Planets included on nearly every top 100 classical list. While this release is titled Volume No. 1 the sudden and surprising death of conductor Richard Hickox could certainly put in jeopardy any further volumes.Ballet from The Perfect Fool, Op.39, a clumsy satire of the Wagner work “Parsifal” was performed in 1923 and toured until 1924. It has not been widely performed since, not because of this wonderful orchestral showpiece but the ballet itself. It has been reduced to this 11+ minute suite from its original length of 70+ minutes. The four parts are performed in one movement, which consist of Andante, Earth, Water, and Fire. Opening with a brass fanfare and percussion the ballet slides from the Andante to the Earth section without pause. It is a staccato section with brass including the tuba. The middle section or Water is a quiet tranquil part featuring a lovely English folk melody on the flute, depicting a peaceful place. The last section, Fire, is 180 degrees from the previous section and features orchestrations one might here in Holst works such as Beni Mora or The Planets.

The Golden Goose, Op. 45 No. 1 is a choral ballet, based on a Grimm tale expanded from the 1969 revision recorded by Imogen Holst (Lyrita SRCD 223). While the 1926 work has received little playing time this reviewer found it to be a pleasant listening experience. The choral singing of the Joyful Company Of Singers was top notch and the folk melodies like The Perfect Fool were most enjoyable.

The Lure came about as a result of a commission for a ballet from Chicago that was never performed. Written in 1921 and edited later by Imogen Holst and Colin Matthews the 10-minute work is yet another orchestral showpiece of material featuring Rimsky-Korsakov brass and a folk tune from W.G. Whittaker’s “North Countrie Ballads, Songs, and Pipetunes.” This reviewer enjoys the way both styles are incorporated into one suite.

The Morning of the Year, Op.45 No. 2 commissioned by the BBC music department was also edited by Holst and Matthews and is a choral ballet with the theme of nature mating in the spring. Because of the subject matter the music is a bit harsh with less melodic passages and development of the material. I must note that I never saw the ballet so I am just surmising that the dance certainly called for the type of written material that Holst provided.

Overall I found this CD to be a pleasant listening experience that is filled with wonderful melodies, choral work, and superb orchestration. Holst seems to be a combination of Vaughan Williams and Rimsky Korsakov. This is definitely worth exploring and adding to your Holst collection which is likely one in number.

CD# CHSA 5069
Produced by Brian Couzens
Engineered by Ralph Couzens

Track Listing:
‘The Perfect Fool’
1….Andante (1:00)
2….Dance of Spirits of Earth (3:48)
3….Dance of Spirits of Water (3:02)
4….Dance of Spirits of Fire (3:41)
‘The Golden Goose’
5….Sound of drum and trumpets play (3:50)
6….The Mummers Play (4:35)
7….The Human Organ (1:53)
8….Jack creeps up, unseen by court (3:07)
9….Dance of the Three Girls (3:24)
10. The Goose Dance (2:57)
11. Jack and Princess embrace (4:58)
‘The Lure’
12.Ballet music for orchestra (10:15)
The Morning of the Year
13.I am that which men did make (4:28)
14. Dance of Headman and Hobby-horse (3:00)
15.Dance of Youths (3:22)
16.Dance of Maidens (2:37)
17.Mating Dance (4:28)
18.Dance of the Youngest Couple (3:03)
Total Time is 67:42

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