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Holst: St. Paul's Suite / Double Concerto / Fugal Concerto / Brook Green Suite

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Audio CD, July 26, 1994
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Editorial Reviews

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Listeners who know only The Planets have a very incomplete appreciation of Gustav Holst. Most of these works were written for student orchestras. They are tuneful, folk-flavored, and highly imaginative, not aiming far beyond entertainment but achieving that goal admirably. The variety or scoring makes this succession of relatively brief pieces work well as a program, and the performances are quite sensible, with vigorous rhythms and a fine sound from the little orchestra--probably much finer than Holst heard when they were new. Add excellent recorded sound and you've got a winner. --Leslie Gerber
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Product Details

  • Performer: Andrew Watkinson, Nicholas Ward, Stephen Tees, Duke Dobing, Christopher Hooker
  • Orchestra: City of London Sinfonia
  • Conductor: Richard Hickox
  • Composer: Gustav Holst
  • Audio CD (July 26, 1994)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Chandos
  • ASIN: B000000AUH
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #131,367 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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If your exposure to the music of Holst begins and ends with The Planets, you're in for a pleasant surprise. This intelligently programmed and beautifully recorded disc features several Holst essentials including the Fugal Concerto, Brook Green Suite and St. Paul's Suite, all convincingly played by the City of London Sinfonia conducted by Richard Hickox. That Holst's music is easy to listen to does not make it superficial. Like Ralph Vaughan Williams, Holst used folk material as the basis for some of his music, thus it projects the flavor of pastoral England in a most satisfying way.

This particular compilation compares very favorably with an authoritative Lyrita disc conducted by the composer's daughter, Imogen Holst conducts Gustav Holst. While there's some crossover in the music, I would recommend both discs to Holst enthusiasts, especially as the Hickox disc includes St. Paul's Suite which Imogen Holst also recorded but which appears on a separate Lyrita anthology.

Another Holst disc I highly recommend is Boult conducts Holst also on Lyrita. This is an essential acquisition for lovers of 20th century British music and there are no duplicated pieces between this and the Hickox or Imogen Holst discs.

Very highly recommended!
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It's sort of a shame that most people recognize the English composer, Gustav Holst, with his "Planets". Yes, it's a brilliant masterpiece (and yes, the Mars & Jupiter sequences are a sure kicker), but he's more than just that. To be honest, I most recognize Holst for his "Somerset Rhapsody", his "Edgon Heath" tone poem, and his choral work "The Cloud Messenger". "The Cloud Messenger" is especially striking for its choral lyricism and its orchestral firepower. Yes, Holst is more than just "the guy who created the 'Planets' music", and this CD is further proof.

The "Double Concerto" consists of two solo violins and a very small orchestra. It's a great one, and it reminds me of Holst's "Hammersmith". "Brook Green Suite" & "St. Paul's Suite" are mostly based on folk material, and it doesn't get any better than this. "Lyric Movement" and "Two Songs without Words" aren't as good as the suites, but their sheer lyricism and steadiness makes me want to listen to them over and over. The only drawback to the "Fugal Concerto" for flute, oboe, and string orchestra is that the end sounds horribly anti-climactic. Either the conductor made a mistake, or Holst no longer had interest during the last movement.

Richard Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia do a fine job with these pieces, and the soloists sound very good. I give this an A-.
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This is a superb collection of some of Holst's smaller-scaled orchestral works, and a decent "next stop" for anyone who wants to explore the composer beyond The Planets (or perhaps "third stop", after some of the choral and orchestral works, the Choral Hymns and Egdon Heath). That said, the works on this disc don't bear many resemblances to his famous masterpiece; most of them were written for student orchestras, and they are tuneful, imaginative, often pastoral in character and steeped in folk music; the rest are highly contrapuntal, somewhat neo-classical and a tad austere. Most of the music is relatively light, but the program is variegated and no single movement is anything less than delightful.

The double concerto for two violins and orchestra dates from 1929 it opens with a rhythmically capricious, contrapuntal (fugal), partially bitonal and very engaging Scherzo. It is followed by a beautiful if not particularly profound lament, and the quirky, inventive and appealing Variation on a Ground containing a plethora of cross-rhythms and "tonal confusion". It is actually a superb work, and one of Holst's most immediately enjoyable (apart from the Planets). The two Songs Without Words from 1906 are less consequential, but atmospheric and attractive. The beautiful Lyric Movement for viola and chamber orchestra was the composer's last completed work. It belongs to the rather austere style that characterizes the composer's late music, yet it contains an inner warmth and sheen nonetheless (Stephen Tees is the very fine soloist on this recording).

The final three works are perhaps the best known of the program. The Brook Green Suite was written for the junior orchestra at St. Paul's Girls School just before the Lyric Movement (in 1933).
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I once posted a question at a classical music forum which first stated what we all know. Most celebrated composers began their careers as virtuoso pianists: Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Liszt, Saint-Saëns, Rachmaninoff, et al. But, I asked, Which composers did not play the piano? The two I named were Berlioz and Holst, both sadly neglected today. Gustav Holst could play the piano, but his right hand was crippled by neuritis, and he could barely hold a pen to write music with. (In his youth, Holst worked as a professional trombone player, which is why he wrote so well for brass.)

Some of the reason for Holst's neglect today is, I think, that after the success in the UK of "The Planets" (which remained almost unknown in the USA until about 1970) with its big, oafish melodies, Holst was haunted by it, as Ravel was haunted by his "Bolero," and so Holst tried to demonstrate that he was a genuine "serious" composer, and he embraced the neoclassical style that Stravinsky and Hindemith (among others) had adopted. The result was that his later work is exceptionally dry, cold, and almost sterile. Perhaps because of his interest in Hindu mysticism and astrology, he also kept the ethereal mood of "Neptune." Most movements are very brief.

I have a tape of an interview with Holst's daughter Imogen (1907-1984) in which she states that, a few years before his death, her father attended a performance of Schubert's Quintet in C, and from it, he realized that he missed warmth in his music. Perhaps there would've been a welcome change in his work had he lived, but instead he left a legacy of late works which we respect, but it's difficult to rouse any enthusiasm over.

Happily, this album includes both mature works by Holst and some of his early, jolly music.
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