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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Hymn of Jesus Op.37 (1920) [21:15]
The Perfect Fool - ballet music Op.39 (1923) [10:31]
Egdon Heath Op.47 (1928) [12:33]
Toccata: Newburn Lads [2:51]
English Folk Songs selection from Op.36 [8:35]
Welsh Folk Songs [23:16]
BBC SO and Chorus, London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
BBC Northern Singers/Stephen Wilkinson
Keith Swallow (piano)
rec. 1961/74, ADD
ALTO ALC1359 [79:26]

Alto have married up two sets of sessions in an open-handed selection of works. These show Holst at his most brilliantly ambitious and at his most touchingly modest.

Without any preliminaries we are swept into the Hymn of Jesus in a version we are likely to know; in fact, for years it was the only version. It's the one by Boult with the BBCSO (review ~ review). Decca's 1961 sessions with the Corporation’s orchestra for once let off the leash, made an exceptional recording in the first place (SXL6006). The FFRR results were bound to attract the super-fi labels and, true to their mission, the first three items on this disc have also come out from High Definition Tape Transfers.

Here, Alto place Boult's ascetic and grimly concentrated Egdon Heath in its well-merited place alongside the smokingly mystical Hymn of Jesus and the spectacular Perfect Fool ballet music. The latter has become a sort of English analogue for Dukas's display warhorse L'Apprenti Sorcier. All three are in imposingly spectacular early 1960s sound. How long must we wait for a recording of the complete one-act opera? It's well worth the effort and very enjoyable too, judging by the Groves and Handley broadcast tapes.

We now move to an altogether more modest scale of music-making. That said, it's still a product of the vinyl age. In the mid-1970s the Abbey label released an LP of Holst's folk songs and his solo piano works. That LP (LPB 736) sank into obscurity and has, in part, been rescued for the first time by Alto. The contents make a contrasting component of the presented well-filled compact disc. Keith Swallow's Toccata: Newburn Lads makes you regret that more of his Holst playing could not have been squeezed onto the disc but Alto have already filled it to Red Book capacity. The unaccompanied singing of the BBC Northern Singers conducted by Stephen Wilkinson is not all sweetness and light, although there is a lot of those two qualities. There's an almost brutal clashing counterpoint in The Lively Pair. This makes for a nice disparity with the delicately cozening interplay of the main where the female singers intone in feathery delicacy 'I Love my Love'. A similar effect is found with the gentle contours of Lisa Lan. This Have I Done for My True Love is very far from unwelcome. In fact, there's not a dud in all the 14 choral items. Only the Graingerian rum-ti-tum of O 't'was on a Monday morning might strain the tolerance of some. Abbey's choral sound is quite acceptable and certainly better than what I recall of those noisy LP surfaces.

Rob Barnett

Detailed contents
English Folk Songs
Matthew, Mark, Luke and John [2:17]
I Sowed the Seeds of Love [2:23]
7. I Love My Love [3:55]
Welsh Folk Songs
The Lively Pair [0:58]
Lisa Lan [3:28]
My Sweetheart's Like Venus [1:34]
Adar Man y Mynydd [2:42]
Lliw Gwyn Rhosyn yr Haf [1:08]
The First Love [1:13]
Green Grass [0:49]
Awake Awake [2:48]
The Dove [2:01]
O 'twas on a Monday Morning [1:47]
This Have I Done for My True Love (Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day) [4:48]

 



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