Holbrooke: Late Piano Music / Callaghan

Holbrooke: Late Piano Music / Callaghan

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The music on this album dates from the composer’s later years, and are largely based on themes from his earlier successes. The inspiration for Holbrooke’s music was almost always literary; hence, the large number of symphonic poems and pieces with literary titles or subtitles in his work list. Almost all the 8 Nocturnes, Op. 121 employ material from some of Holbrooke’s most successful and popular earlier works. The music critic Ernest Newman, in an often quoted appreciation of the composer written in 1902, wrote that “…Holbrooke can do quite easily and unconsciously what [Richard] Strauss has only done half a dozen times in his career – he can write a big, heartfelt melody that searches us to the very bone…”, and these Nocturnes display Josef’s gift for lyricism. The two Fantasie-Sonatas, Opp. 124 & 128 respectively, are important and substantial works from Holbrooke’s later years. The first is closely based on the opening movement of the Dramatic Choral Symphony ‘Homage to E.A. Poe’, Op. 48 (1902-1907), but skilfully adapted for pianistic effectiveness. The second Fantasie-Sonata, ‘Destiny’, does not recycle earlier material: it is an entirely original composition of two movements. Based on the slow movement of the fine Horn Trio, Op. 28 (1902), Cambrian Ballade No. 4 Op. 104 Maentrog commences in the lilting character of a berceuse. A more animated central section leads to an ardent reprise of the opening theme and a coda like a sudden shower of rain. It is tempting to think that in this composition the composer looked back wistfully to a period when his creative fires burned brightly and his talents were recognized by the musical world. [Gareth Vaughan]


This is the disc to go to for Holbrooke’s later works and I do hope that Lyrita have taped him – or will tape him – in the earlier solo piano music. If you imagine that these piano pieces are merely skeletal abstractions, watered down versions of pieces like Queen Mab, Ulalume and other large-scale pieces on which they are based, I think you are in for a surprise. These are strong works in their own right and deserve a good hearing and in Callaghan’s expert performances that is precisely what they receive.

– MusicWeb International (Jonathan Woolf)

The Fantasie-Sonata No 2 is an entirely original composition from 1938 which bears the rather vague subtitle Destiny. There are two movements: in the brief first panel a rather strident Maestoso chordal introduction yields to a glittering, arresting Allegro idea which never truly settles. This presages Holbrooke’s development of it in the longer second movement which matures from an alternatively assertive and tentative Maestoso con moto cell into an exhilirating Con brio section which provides Callaghan with an authentic opportunity for unbridled virtuosity. This is wonderful music; it’s telling that Gareth Vaughan likens it to Messiaen – the ripe and radiant colours and progressions which tumble atop one another confirm that this far from an idle comparison. I have to say I found this Fantasie-Sonata No 2 to be unexpectedly rewarding; it’s by far the most ‘contemporary’ work on the disc and its considerable merits are enhanced on repetition. Adrian Farmer’s engineering once again does Holbrooke (and Callaghan’s superb playing) full justice.

There is one other piece, the nostalgic Cambrian Ballade No 4, named Maentrog (after a tiny hamlet nestling in the Vale of Ffestinog). Holbrooke’s music here though is not overtly topographically inspired – it seems to be a re-working of material he first used in his Horn Trio of 1902. It seems poised and effortlessly crafted in this piano form. It completes what constitutes for me a most satisfying introduction to Holbrooke’s piano music. Admirers of Simon Callaghan and aficionados of off-the-beaten-track British piano repertoire need not hesitate.

–MusicWeb International (Richard Hanlon)

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: SRCD395

  • UPC: 5020926039521

  • Label: Lyrita

  • Composer: Joseph Holbrooke

  • Performer: Simon Callaghan