An Interesting Holst Omnibus
M. C. Passarella | Lawrenceville, GA | 08/17/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This CD brings together disparate small works of Holst, as well as recordings made in two different decades. So we have very good analog recordings of the choruses made in the mid-70s and quite decent digital recordings made in the early 90s. The unifying element is the English Chamber Orchestra--a fine choice for the assignment, of course. Holst is in their blood, and even if Sir Yehudi isn't a noted Holst specialist (at least that I know of), his performance of the "Perfect Fool" ballet music is very spirited and attractively colored. Menuhin's performance is pretty much the equal of Adrian Boult's reference recording of this music. Plus Menuhin has much more modern sound.
The other orchestral works are well handled, too, I think, especially the Fugal Concerto--given a sprightly reading--and A Somerset Rhapsody, droll music given an equally droll reading. I have heard more engaging performances of the delightful "St. Paul's Suite," but this is certainly a decent job. And I'm not familiar with "Brook Green," which isn't Holst at his most memorable anyway.
As for the choral music represented here, this is Holst at his most solemn and meditative. If your tastes run more to "The Planets" than to the "Choral Symphony" and "Choral Fantasia," this may not be your cup of tea. But I think Holst had a unique approach to choral music and find the "Six Choruses" both interesting and entertaining. The Dirge moves me in the same way as the war poetry of Wilfred Owen or Walt Whitman does. In fact, this is a setting of one of Whitman's more famous Civil War poems--a very effective setting, with apropos contributions from brass and percussion. Written in 1914, before the outbreak of the First World War, the Dirge anticipates the "Mars" section of "The Planets" written a couple of years later.
So this disc represents a strange mix of Holst music, but it is all effectively performed and recorded--just the thing to fill in gaps in your Holst collection. More authoritative readings may be found in Decca's British Music Collection box set, but I opted for the modern sound accorded Menuhin and Humphreys on this Classics for Pleasure disc and am quite happy. The price is certainly right!