1897, 1900, 1903, 1905, 1906, 1911, 1921, 1927, 1980, 1988, 1989, Music

Holst: A Winter Idyll (1993) by David Atherton et al.

This is a collection of short orchestral pieces and excerpts of longer ones, by Holst. It is not performed by the same group throughout (as it’s a compilation) though, as far as I can tell (listening to a digital copy), the conductor is the same throughout (David Atherton).

“A Winter Idyll” starts rather lively for the title. It’s decent late Romantic stuff. It’s fine. It doesn’t have me jumping out of my shoes or anything.
Why anyone excerpts parts of symphonies I’ll never know. (Well I do know why they do it, I just don’t like it.) I’d much rather hear something else in its place. But I am kind of curious about listening to the whole “Cotswolds” symphony now, as this is a decent elegy. (In the symphony, it’s the second movement.)

“Indra” starts out bold (like so much of Holst’s work) then practically fades away to nothing, and then is at full strength again in just over a minute. It’s one of Holst’s most memorable pieces, for sure. And I think it’s probably among his very best works too, in spite of its catchiness. There’s a lot of dynamic tension here that isn’t always so successfully presented in other Holst works. A near-masterpiece.

“A Song of the Night” is like a mini violin concerto. It’s a decent piece for violin. The orchestral accompaniment is really subtle until about half way through and, even then, it’s quite understated until about the 5 minute mark. Nice stuff.

Then we have an excerpt from one of his operas, Sita. Again, no idea why that was judged to be something that belongs among these whole pieces. It’s a lively thing, but excerpted from the opera, what the hell am I supposed to do with it?

“Invocation” is his mini-cello concerto (or one of them, I don’t know). It is similar in execution to “Song of the Night” to my ears. It’s basically the cello version (albeit a little more strident). So I can’t say that I like it as much. But it’s still good stuff. (Same opus number, even though they were written six years apart, supposedly. In case you care about these things.)

“The Lure” is a later Holst piece with a lot more pizazz than some of his other works of this length. It also has an “eastern” flair to it missing from even his otherwise “Indian” inspired music. Good stuff.

“The Morning of the Year” is a brief ballet, with the music oddly augmented by a choir. (As was the other ballet from this opus. So…) However, here it is presented without the choir, for reasons that are obscure. It’s interesting piece of music (jaunty and full of percussion) but, like all of Holst’s music, it feels behind the times.

This is a pretty weak compilation. Even though it has some great music, the performances are by different orchestras at different times, and there are arbitrary excerpts as well as that missing choir. Hard to know what to think about something so haphazard.


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