Holst: A Winter Idyll, Elegy, Indra, Etc / Atherton

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A fascinating assembly of Holstiana. Three of these pieces have already appeared on record before, two of which—the colourful 1921 ballet, The Lure, and Dances from The Morning of the Year (an effective concert suite edited by Imogen Holst and Colin Matthews from Holst's 1926-7 choral ballet)—were available on an earlier Lyrita compilation from 1982, coupled with the ambitious 1904 scena for soprano and orchestra, The Mystic Trumpeter. David Atherton was the admirable conductor on that occasion, with the LSO enthusiastic protagonists and the engineers on top form. Wisely, then, this enterprising label has invited the same conductor (this time with the LPO) to continue the good work, and the result is this notably generous collection of absorbing rarities.

Just one work offers the chance for comparative listening, the haunting Invocation for cello and orchestra from 1911. Imogen Holst has observed that, from a textural point of view, this music presages many features of ''Venus'' from The Planets (indeed, if I'm not mistaken, the cello's opening senza misura passage even quotes a turn of phrase later used in that selfsame movement). Memorably recorded for RCA by Julian Lloyd Webber and Vernon Handley in 1983, this often magical creation is equally well served by these newcomers: perhaps Alexander Baillie is the more hyper-sensitive and tonally beautiful of the two soloists, whereas Handley is a rather more imaginative partner than Atherton. Its companion opus, A Song of the Night for violin and orchestra, was composed in 1905: a less characteristic essay, its central climax glows with romantic fervour, especially in a performance as passionately dedicated as this one.

From 1899 to 1906, Holst worked on his large-scale opera based on Indian mythology, Sita. Colin Matthews has put together this brief orchestral interlude containing music from Act 3: its excitable, very Wagnerian manners are striking, as, for that matter, is Holst's beautifully judged orchestral writing at the hushed conclusion. There's plenty more Wagnerian spectacle in Holst's earliest completed Indian-inspired creation, the 12-minute tone-poem, Indra, from 1903. This colourful, enjoyably rhetorical portrait-in-sound of the god, Indra, and his battle against the drought, again reveals a confident, assertive master of the orchestra, if not without an occasional touch of vulgarity in some of the more over-blown tuttis. The heartfelt, if not especially memorable Elegy in memoriam William Morris in fact comprises the slow movement of Holst's Cotswold Symphony from 1900. To begin with, Holst's processional is momentarily reminiscent of Magnard's glorious Chant funebre, though, as the music progresses, the comparison quickly becomes a cruel one! Finally, there's A Winter Idyll which, although the earliest work on this CD (it dates from 1897, when the composer was still a student at the Royal College of Music), is scored with no little aplomb; certainly, Holst's teacher, Stanford, would have approved of the felicitous transparency and sure design of this, his pupil's very first orchestral work.

In all, a most rewarding survey, handsomely played and engineered, and graced by extensive and knowledgeable booklet-notes from Lewis Foreman.

Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone [6/1993]

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SRCD209

  • UPC: 5020926020925

  • Label: Lyrita

  • Composer: Gustav Holst

  • Conductor: David Atherton

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra

  • Performer: Alexander Baillie, Lorraine McAslan