Holst/Hickox [The Perfect Fool … The Golden Goose … The Lure … The Morning of the Year]

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Holst
The Perfect Fool, Op.39 – Ballet
The Golden Goose, Op.45/1 [A Choral Ballet founded on a tale of Grimm]
The Lure [Ballet music for orchestra]
The Morning of the Year, Op.45/2 [A Choral Ballet]

Joyful Company of Singers

BBC National Orchestra of Wales
Richard Hickox

Recorded 1 & 2 July 2008 in Brangwyn Hall, Swansea


Reviewed by: Peter Joelson

Reviewed: January 2009
CD No: CHANDOS CHSA 5069
[CD/SACD Hybrid]
Duration: 68 minutes

 

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Of the works on this fine disc, the ballet music opening the opera “The Perfect Fool” is probably the best known, certainly the most recorded. Written in the period 1918 to 1922, the opera was first performed in 1923 at the Royal Opera House (Covent Garden), Eugene Goossens conducting, but after a successful tour in 1924, has had very few revivals. In one act, the opera parodies Wagner in the main, in addition to Verdi and Debussy.

The Ballet Music depicts the spirits of Earth, Water and Fire, with noticeably effective writing in the outer parts for the trombone, Holst’s own instrument. Hickox and BBC National Orchestra of Wales bring out the big, bold climaxes with aplomb and the playing in the sparely scored middle section shows off the wind section.

The Lure is a ten-minute piece for orchestra written in 1921, destined for Chicago but never played there, and Holst withdrew it later as it received no performances as a ballet or as a concert piece. The “lure” is the candle flame, attracting moths. The music uses in part a Northumbrian folk-tune, and again uses those big climaxes with much percussion, with that typically Holstian flavour.

The two choral ballets “The Golden Goose” and “The Morning of the Year” were written in 1926-1927: both are neglected. “The Golden Goose”, based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, is a charming work, whose central section has that long rhyme “Pig, pig, jump over the stile…” as part of the Mummers’ play. It’s all great fun, especially with the happy ending. Apart from a couple of threadbare notes, The Joyful Company of Singers does well, and Hickox and the orchestra point the characterisation to good effect.

“The Morning of the Year” was written immediately after the “The Golden Goose” and was the very first piece of music commissioned by the BBC Music Department. Dedicated to the English Folk Dance Society, this work is, as Imogen Holst said, better heard than seen. Written at a time of Tudor revival, outdoor performances and pageants, it was well received and its inventiveness praised. Set around the spring equinox, the piece sounds as though it is Holst’s equivalent to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring: “A representation of the mating ordained by Nature to happen in the Spring of each year”, but is really not in the same league for eroticism. The music combines English folk-song flavour with Holst’s own fingerprints, and as the singers are not part of the action, this lends the piece easily to concert-performance. Hickox brings out the outdoor feeling, which the music conjures up very successfully.

Much praise for the excellent big, bold sound from Chandos, which I listened to through the SACD layer and which easily copes with the wide dynamic range of the music.

This release was to have been the first of a projected series of Holst’s orchestral works, but the project was cruelly cut short in November 2008 with Richard Hickox’s premature death. This exceptional recording underlines what Richard Hickox did so well, as did Vernon Handley – the uncovering of lesser-known British works and bringing them to our attention in performances of sincerity, life and commitment.

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