HOLST: Cotswolds Sym.; Walt Whitman Ov.; Indra; Japanese Suite; A Winter Idyll – Ulster Orch./ JoAnn Falletta – Naxos

by | Jul 24, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

HOLST: Cotswolds Symphony; Walt Whitman Overture; Indra; Japanese Suite; A Winter Idyll – Ulster Orchestra/ JoAnn Falletta – Naxos 8.572914, 65:55 ****:
Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was one of several British composers (Elgar, Vaughan-Williams, Bax, and Walton) who brought England into the realm of 20th-century music. Although primarily known for The Planets (1914-16), his popular orchestral blockbuster written in the late Romantic idiom, Holst also wrote a bevy of shorter works that were more introverted in nature and often influenced by English folk tunes. Examples include Brook Green Suite, St. Paul’s Suite, Lyric Movement for viola and small orchestra, and the Double Concerto for two violins and orchestra, among others. All are beautifully tonal and well worth investigating.
This is a disc of early works, Romantic in the tradition of his fellow countrymen Parry and Stanford. Heavily influenced by Wagner, the Walt Whitman Overture (1899) is a dramatic and buoyant ode to the American poet, whose blend of the transcendental and the realistic was attractive to the young Holst.  Even better is the Cotswolds Symphony, written in the same year. Filled with delightful English folk themes and centered by a touching Elgarian elegy to the textile designer, artist and utopian socialist William Morris, this work reveals Holst to be an important composer. A sense of nationalistic pride pervades this work, appropriate for a youth in an age when the British empire was at its zenith.
A Winter Idyll (1897) successfully integrates drama with melody, perhaps reflecting Holst’s experiences with the viccisitudes of English weather. The Japanese Suite (1915) was commissioned by the Japanese dancer and choreographer Michio Ito, who needed music to accompany a performance at the London Coliseum that year. He whistled the tunes to Holst, who orchestrated them into short scenes expressing Ito’s choreography. Memorable are the Dance of the Marionettes, (reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, written five years earlier), a beautiful and impressionistic Dance under the cherry tree and a menacing Dance of the Wolves. Falletta’s performance pales in comparison to Boult’s 1971 incandescent Lyrita recording, both in orchestral weight, idiomatic interpretation, and acoustic splendor. It’s available on a wonderful four-disc set that celebrates 50 years of Lyrita’s fine recordings.
The symphonic poem Indra (1903) reflects Holst’s interest in Indian philosophy. He took lessons in Sanskrit, and set English translations of texts from the Rig Veda.The Mahabharata was the basis for his chamber opera, Savitri. Indra is the god of the heavens – rain and storm – and this tone poem is story of the conflict between him and the demon Vritra. Resplendent with beautiful melodies and a ferocious battle sequence, it summarizes the works on this disc of early Holst orchestral works: dramatic and beautiful; music ravishingly orchestrated and delightful to the ear. JoAnn Falleta and the Ulster Orchestra perform it with gusto and affection, and the recording is excellent.
—Robert Moon

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