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Holst: Cotswolds Symphony, Japanese Suite / Falletta

Holst / Ulster Orchestra / Falletta
Release Date: 06/26/2012 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572914   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Gustav Holst
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HOLST Walt Whitman. Symphony, “The Cotswolds.” A Winter Idyll. Japanese Suite. Indra JoAnn Falletta, cond; Ulster O NAXOS 8.572914 (65:55)

All of this music is early with the exception of the Japanese Suite, and all of it has appeared on CD before, most notably (with the exception of the symphony) on the superb series of Holst discs issued over the years by Lyrita with such Read more luminaries as Adrian Boult, David Atherton, and Nicholas Braithwaite at the helm. I would never want to part with those three Lyrita discs, but I find this new Naxos disc just as satisfying, and Falletta’s generally more inward, reflective style offers new insights. That it contains a performance of Holst’s only completed orchestral symphony, which gives the work new stature, only adds to its value as an addition to a discography understandably, but regrettably, dominated by one magnificent work. While only one of these works qualifies as a mature composition in a distinctive voice, even the student-written A Winter Idyll shows its composer in a good light, and proves that while fame may have eluded him until midlife, it was not for lack of talent or skill.

A Winter Idyll, the Walt Whitman Overture, and the “Cotswolds” Symphony, all effectively apprentice works written between 1897 and 1900, owe much to the example of the great German Romantics. The influence of Mendelssohn and Schumann in particular should not be surprising given Holst’s then-recent tutelage by Stanford and Parry at the Royal College of Music. And even a casual listener to the symphony will be able to guess that Holst was then much taken with Wagner. What is notable, however, is just how effectively he has already incorporated these voices into one of his own, albeit one less individual than that of the composer of The Planets, or Egdon Heath, or even Beni Mori of but a few years hence.

The symphony has had one previous recording on Classico with Douglas Bostock conducting. It is still available on other reissue labels, but Falletta’s performance improves on the earlier effort in every way. Tighter and weightier than Bostock in the main—though the scherzo is engagingly quicksilver—she convinces one that the symphony is much more than just a frame for the moving elegy for socialist visionary William Morris that comprises the second movement. Falletta similarly finds new depth in the transitional symphonic poem Indra (1903), emphasizing atmosphere and warmth where the alternative reading by Atherton inclines more toward brilliance and contrast.

The Japanese Suite is the one work here that is representative of the mature Holst, to the extent that any work can be said to represent a composer who notoriously hated to repeat himself. It reflects his developing interests in things Asian, and in folk music, and it shows him free of the old-school German romantic model. It was written in 1915 in response to a commission from Japanese dancer Michio Ito for a London recital, and so is exactly contemporaneous with The Planets. In fact, Holst stopped work on the larger suite to write the smaller one, and many ideas found in the former are adapted to the scale and delicacy of this attractive work that has been unfairly overshadowed by its bigger and more flamboyant sibling.

Its neglect may to some degree reflect the challenge it offers the conductor. Neither Falletta nor Andrew Davis in the other currently available recording on Chandos can match the character of Boult’s recording on Lyrita. More than either, Boult and the late-’60s London Symphony Orchestra bring out, through canny pacing, phrasing, and articulation of these haunting ancient tunes, the Japanese flavor Ito sought in this work. Falletta’s performance is still wonderfully sensitive and perfectly scaled, but here I must register my one clear preference for an alternative.

That said, clearly there is some good chemistry going in Ulster between its fine orchestra and the new American principal conductor. One can only hope that there will be many more releases like this in the future, and in the superb sound provided by the Grammy-winning producer and engineer, Tim Handley and Phil Rowlands. Definitely a winner.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames

This disc contains a wealth of relatively unfamiliar music, although all of it has been recorded before. Holst’s “The Cotswolds” Symphony deserves credit for its untraditional approach to form: it’s basically a lively and unpretentious framework for the touching second-movement Elegy (In memoriam William Morris). While it doesn’t sound much like the later Holst, it’s clear that the composer was not in sympathy with the typical, late-Romantic conception of the symphony, and good for him. The Walt Whitman Overture was composed at about the same time as the symphony, and sounds like it; it’s a lively and slightly anonymous piece that’s good, clean fun. A Winter Idyll, the earliest work on the disc, begins with a surprisingly violent gesture and then quickly calms down, but never loses focus or lacks freshness.

The two major works, though, are the Japanese Suite (contemporaneous with The Planets) and the tone poem Indra. Holst basically disowned this latter work, as he did most of his early pieces, but the fact is that he was a master of musical exoticism, even if the style is not as orchestrally lean and cool as we find in the Japanese Suite. Here the mature composer is obvious, nowhere more so than in the Dance of the Marionette (sound sample), with its repeated rhythms and delicate writing for the glockenspiel. The performances are first rate in all respects—at least as fine as the recorded competition. JoAnn Falletta gets an enthusiastic response from the Ulster Orchestra, and her interpretive choices (tempos especially) sound unerringly right. The engineering is clean and clear; it suits the music. A fine disc.

-- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

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Works on This Recording

Walt Whitman Overture, Op. 7/H 42 by Gustav Holst
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1899; England 
Symphony in F major, Op. 8/H 47 "The Cotswolds" by Gustav Holst
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1899; England 
Japanese Suite, Op. 33/H 126 by Gustav Holst
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1915; England 
Indra, Op. 13/H 66 by Gustav Holst
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; England 
A Winter Idyll, H 31 by Gustav Holst
Conductor:  JoAnn Falletta
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Ulster Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1897; England 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  3 Customer Reviews )
 A Collection-worthy Recording January 31, 2014 By William Muthig (Milan, OH) See All My Reviews "Once in awhile one takes a "shot-in-the-dark" and purchases a disc when one is familiar with a single recorded work only to be pleasantly surprised with the other works on the disc. This is one such disc. The Symphony in F major and "A Winter Idyll" have been added to my list of favored Holst pieces. The performance by the Ulster Orchestra is excellent. This is a recording worth listening to if you are a fan of these works or are looking for a fresh experience. Add this to your collection." Report Abuse
 Entertaning and Delightful January 16, 2013 By Joseph Erdeljac (West Chester, PA) See All My Reviews "What a great recording of fresh and uplifting music. The performance by the Ulster Orchestra under JoAnn Falletta is joyous, exciting and most uplifting. Holst's music is filled with delightful melodies and rhythms that lift the spirit and make the listener want to sing and dance." Report Abuse
 Excellent and Varied Holst Compositions October 20, 2012 By Henry S. (Springfield, VA) See All My Reviews "Led by Joanne Falletta, the Ulster Orchestra delivers an impressive performance of a series of works by English composer Gustav Holst. The merry, up-tempo Walt Whitman Overture leads off and sets the stage for the 'Cotswolds Symphony', in which the core movement is the striking Elegy (2nd movement). Winter Idyll, a youthful work, emphasizes Holst's affinity for melody. Next, the 10 minute long tone poem Japanese Suite contains 6 short, yet expressive, sections. Finally, the symphonic poem Indra puts a powerful musical spin on a traditional Indian legend. All in all, this is an entertaining recording of very high quality, which should please all music fans, and particularly those who favor English classics. Recommended." Report Abuse
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