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Cantatas for Soprano
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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
Double Concerto for two violins and small orchestra Op. 49, H. 175 (1929) [14:58]
Two Songs without Words for small orchestra Op. 22, H. 88 (1906) [8:17]
Lyric Movement for viola and small orchestra H. 191 (1933) [11:08]
Brook Green Suite for string orchestra, H. 190 (1933) [7:15]
A Fugal Concerto for flute, oboe and string orchestra, Op. 40 No.2, H. 152 (1923) [8:30]
St Paul’s Suite for string orchestra Op. 29 No. 2, H. 118 (1912-13) [13:04]
Andrew Watkinson, Nicholas Ward (violins), Stephen Tees (viola), Duke Dobbing (flute), Christopher Hooker (oboe)
City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
rec. 1993, St Jude-on-the-Hill, London CHANDOS CHAN10948X [64:04]
This is the latest in the mid-price Hickox Legacy series which has been reissuing, among many other things, Hickox’s extensive recordings of Holst. In this series the original cover art is set within a dark border with the Hickox Legacy monogram at the foot. Curiously, for at least some of these discs, the original full price version is still available. Here we have a collection of his works for small orchestra, complementing that of works for full orchestra which has already been reissued (review).
All these works are short. The Double Concerto is in three movements. The first features a dancing opening, a slower and more lyrical contrasting theme and a passage in which the two soloists play in two different keys at the same time, an effect Holst liked. The second movement is a lament, with a long passage for the two soloists alone, while the finale is a set of variations. I find this not a wholly satisfactory work: there is too much slow music, and the outer movements lose momentum through frequent changes of speed.
The Two Songs without Words are very early, settings of folksong-like material which is actually original. They are attractive but minor; a touch of augmented harmony suggests the more adventurous composer to come.
The Lyric Movement is very late. The solo viola part was written for Lionel Tertis who gave the premiere under Boult. The composer’s daughter said that her father here achieved warmth, despite the austerity of his late style. Nobody now would consider this style particularly austere: it is the neoclassicism popular with composers of the interwar period, notably Stravinsky. I find it a melancholy work but restrained and I consider it a masterpiece. It could do with a context: when I listen to it I precede it with the Fugal Overture and follow it with the Scherzo and the orchestral version of Hammersmith. All these are on the other Hickox disc of Holst orchestral works.
The Brook Green Suite was written for the junior orchestra at St Paul’s Girls’ School, where Holst was a teacher. There is a gentle prelude which rises to surprising intensity, a graceful Air and a final dance which sounds as if based on a folk song but which is again original Holst.
The Fugal Concerto, unlike the Double Concerto, seems to me a complete success. Again there are three movements. The first is based on a most attractive idea, nicely handled by the two contrasted soloists. The Adagio is reminiscent of Bach but seen through twentieth century eyes while the finale displays the rhythmic trickiness we know from Mercury in ThePlanets, before happily resolving on the old tune ‘If all the world were paper.’
The St Paul’s Suite, like the Brook Green Suite, was written for St Paul’s Girls’ School but nearly thirty years earlier. There are four short movements: a cheerful jig, an ostinato with a galumphing theme with darker undertones, an intermezzo based on a theme Holst heard in Algeria and a finale which features a folk-dance tune, ‘The Dargason,’ which is in 6/8, which is counterpointed with Greensleeves, which is in 3/4, a typically Holstian trick.
The Lyric Movement and the Fugal Concerto are by some way the best works here, but all have some points of interest. Hickox conducts with his customary combination of enthusiasm and sensitivity and the recording is pleasantly full without being over-resonant. The notes, in English only, are informative. You can find nearly the same programme conducted by Imogen Holst on Lyrita (review) and this obviously has a special authority, but I don’t think there is much in it as far the performances are concerned. However, the Lyrita is some twenty years older than Hickox, analogue and still at full price, which might give Hickox the edge. Stephen Barber
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