Holst: A Winter Idyll, Elegy, Indra, Etc / Atherton
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]
Catalog Number: SRCD209
Composer: Gustav Holst
Conductor: David Atherton
Orchestra/Ensemble: London Philharmonic Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra
Performer: Alexander Baillie, Lorraine McAslan