Brook Green Suite
A Song of the Night
St Paul’s Suite
A Fugal Concerto
Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra
Janice Graham & Sarah Ewins (violins)
Andriy Viytovych (viola)
Anna Pyne (flute) & Philip Harmer (oboe)
Recorded 10-12 November 2005 in St Clements Church, Islington, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: August 2007
CD No: NAXOS 8.570339
Duration: 62 minutes
Just to prove that Gustav Holst (1874-1934) wrote more than The Planets, this fine release brings some stirring and beautiful music to our attention.
A Song of the Night, for violin and orchestra, wasn’t published until 1984. It’s quite a find. Whilst Holst isn’t an obvious composer for this work, the music itself is very appealing; the opening cadenza immediately grips in its eloquence and, with the entrance of the orchestra, a movement of enchanted Romanticism unfolds that, at times, reminds of the famed Adagio of Max Bruch’s First Concerto or as part of the same creator’s Scottish Fantasy. Janice Graham plays it here with warmth and intensity.
This selection of Holst pieces is dominated by concertante works. The Lyric Movement (for viola) is nocturnal in effect, hushed and ethereal, quite lovely, and played with real soul by Andriy Viytovych, to which the rhythmically tripping A Fugal Concerto (flute and oboe) is a lively and pastoral counterpart. In turn, the ingenious Concerto for Two Violins offers fibre and a more astringent mix of expression and timbres, leavened by sweeter reflection, but centred on the numbed if painful second movement ‘Lament’ before the determined tread of the ‘Variations on a Ground’ finale. This is neo-classical music that needs to be worked at, so closely grained is it.
The two suites for string orchestra provide lighter fare. Brook Green is airy, Arcadian and vigorous, the energy of the finale carrying over into St Paul , a rough-and-tumble classic that doesn’t eschew serenity or the ‘borrowing’ of a couple of ‘popular’ tune.
The performances, from soloists and orchestra, are excellent in shape and drive, Howard Griffiths proving a most sympathetic conductor of this music. But although the recording is lucid and vibrant it is also transferred at too high a level, which brings some unwanted aggression to fortissimo and treble passages. Still, with a bit of adjustment the sound is acceptable (and always clear) and with dynamic contrasts surviving.
This is not the first time that Naxos has spotlighted Holst’s other music – 8.553696 includes Egdon Heath, Beni Mora and Invocation, the latter a companion to A Song of the Night, and 8.557117 takes a look at Holst’s vocal works. This latest release is very recommendable.