HOLST: A Fugal Overture; A Somerset Rhapsody; Beni Mora -Oriental Suite; Hammersmith – A Prelude & Scherzo. Op. 52; Scherzo (1934); Japanese Suite — London Philharmonic Orchestra/ London Symphony Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult – Lyrita

by | Jan 23, 2007 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

HOLST: A Fugal Overture, Op. 40, No.1; A Somerset Rhapsody, Op. 21 No. 2; Beni Mora -Oriental Suite, Op. 29, No. 1; Hammersmith – A Prelude & Scherzo. Op. 52; Scherzo (1934); Japanese Suite, Op. 33 — London Philharmonic Orchestra/ London Symphony Orchestra (Fugal Overture; Japanese Suite)/ Sir Adrian Boult – Lyrita SRCD 222, 61:46 (Distrib. Allegro) ****:

Here is a fine album (rec. 1971-1972) devoted to the music of Gustav Holst (1874-1934) by one of his arch interpreters, Sir Adrian Boult, and happily without recourse again to The Planets. A Fugal Overture (1922) dates from Holst’s St. Paul’s Girls’ School days; it was pressed into service by Eugene Goossens as the overture for Holst’s opera The Perfect Fool. Along with a string pentatonic chord or two, the piece has some colorful scoring: a tuba solo, a duet for piccolo and bassoon, and sleigh bells. Its pungent rhythms anticipate Prokofiev, breaking into patterns of 3+3+2 in the cellos and basses. A Somserset Rhapsody (1906) appears early in Holst’s catalogue, the product of his collecting, with Cecil Sharp, tunes from rural England. Holst imagined a kind of pastoral program for this piece, wherein a youth courting a girl is coaxed into joining the military, and the girl is left alone.

That Holst could rival Saint-Saens when he wanted to comes forth in Beni Mora (1909), a product of a sojourn to Algeria. A suite in E Minor, it opens with an Oriental Dance and two more movements. The title is taken from the setting for a novel, The Garden of Allah, by Robert Hitchens – later a film with Charles Boyer, Marlene Dietrich, and Basil Rathbone. The Second Dance in 5/4 rhythm uses a thumping string and tympani line we know from Ibert. The last section of this exotic exercise tries to capture Holst’s fascination with a bamboo flute he had heard in Algeria. Most curious is the knotty Scherzo from a projected Symphony Holst wished to compose, a work that he hoped would contain the warmth he felt much of his music lacked. The Scherzo is vital, impassioned music, thunderous and tenderly lyrical at once. Boult himself conducted the world premier of this “fiendishly difficult music” on 6 February 1935 with the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Hammersmith (1930) is a tribute to London life, and Holst set the tonepoem for both wind band and full orchestra. Sir Adrian Boult premiered this piece on the same program that featured Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast. We move from the Thames River to a sort of chanty invocation and trumpet flurry. Somewhat like Ravel’s Rhapsodie espagnole, the piece moves from contemplation to revelry, a songful nocturne interjecting itself amid the Cockney excursions that end back at the Thames. The fugal writing under Boult is busy, raucous, and suggestive of other composers’ later styles, such as Alwyn and Rawsthorne.

The six movement Japanese Suite (1915) owes its existence to a commission from dancer Michio Ito, who sang and whistled ancient Japanese melodies for Holst to imitate. The music has a travelogue quality about it, dubiously oriental. The use of glockenspiel in the Marionette Dance provides a kinship with Mercury of The Planets. The clarity of the scoring sounds more like Ravel than Tchaikovksy’s version of the orient in The Nutcracker. The Song of the Fisherman picks up the harp riffs in the course of a Hollywoodish Romantic sound. The most atmospheric bit is the Dance under the Cherry Tree. I find the Finale – Dance of the Wolves glitzy and derivative, mostly of Grieg. But this music bespeaks a talent with a broad range of colors, and Holst deserves more than a singular success.

— Gary Lemco

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