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on 13 September 2007
Never has there been a more unjust one hit wonder than Gustav Holst. For 90 years the Planets Suite has filled concert halls and provided orchestras and record companies with an easy money spinner. But there is so much more to this composer.

Here Naxos treats us to an hour's worth of his works for chamber and string orchestras, showing sides to his muse that are not even hinted at in the Planets. I first heard many of these pieces on a trusty old Lyrita LP where they were conducted by Gustav's daughter Imogen. She was no mean composer herself and sought to preserve her fathers music as he would have wished, but I have to say I prefer the way these compositions are treated here. In place of the dry unemotional style she demanded from the English Chamber Orchestra, the English Sinfonia under the baton of Howard Griffiths give these works more vibrant and romantic renditions. They also show themselves to be the better players.

The Brook Green and St Paul's Suites were written by Holst for the school orchestra at St Paul's Girls School where he taught. They are lively folk songs influenced works. The Brook Green Suite, with 3 movements clocking in at 6 minutes is a model of economy.

A Song of the Night for Violin and Orchestra and the Lyric Movement for Viola and Chamber Orchestra are both major works despite their short lengths. There romantic depths are revealed in this recording, as is their rich and powerful orchestration despite the small forces used. Here is a composer that really does make every note tell.

A Fugal Concerto is a pocket sized delight. The first movement is a light footed dance through the countryside that would make the perfect theme tune for a between the wars period drama serial. The slow movement then delves back to the baroque, weaving a wistful air before dance and air intertwine in the final movement.

Finally there is the Concerto for Two Violins and Orchestra in which all the threads of Holst's post Planets composing intertwine. It is full of beautiful moments, delicate, then vibrant, then searching, then - - - . It is a kaleidoscope of continuous invention.

So - another richly rewarding release from Naxos.
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VINE VOICEon 23 December 2007
Apart from The Planets, not much of Holst's output has achieved any real acclaim. It is to the great credit of Naxos, therefore, that they have tried to bring some of the lesser-known works to public attention. Pieces written for St Paul's Girls' School, Hammersmith, for example, or the Suite in Eb that I vaguely remember our Birmingham Schools' Orchestra playing. (Didn't quite make it onto LP, this one.)

The opening work on this CD, Brook Green, is decidedly lightweight, in terms of its duration (6') and its character. Not surprising, really, given its dedication to the Girls' School Junior Orchestra. But despite the lightness of touch, there is always enough interest to reward the attentive listener. More substantial is the St Paul's Suite, with its folk-inspired melodies reminiscent of Warlock's medley, Capriol Suite. The Finale uses folk material in a different way - it has Green Sleeves running in counterpoint to Holst's original melody, the so-called Dargason.

Counterpoint was something of a favourite form for Holst, who deploys it to great effect in the impressive, neo-Baroque Fugal Concerto for flute and oboe. Similarly counterpointed is the Double Concerto for two violins, another distinguished composition, powerfully played. The closing bars of the finale, with drums beating an insistent and slightly menacing rhythm, recapture something of the originality and force of Mars from The Planets.

With the exception of the last two, weightier, works (although these are still small-scale), the bulk of this disc is made up of music that is probably best described as quiet and unassuming. The playing meanwhile, by the English Sinfonia under Howard Griffith, is always assured and committed. It isn't too difficult to see why The Planets has made a much bigger noise on the world's stage, where larger scale usually equates to greater impact. This is a CD with considerable charm, nonetheless, and is one that you will probably want to return to surprisingly often.
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on 11 April 2017
Great CD
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on 10 September 2011
This CD offers the listener some of the undervalued gems of the English composer Gustav Holst. While his name is nearly synonymous with the Planets these days, he wrote quite a bit of other music that is well worth hearing. Incidentally, the music that is on this CD follows the example of his contemporaries Vaughan Williams and Delius. In other words, it's pastoral, folksy, and strongly English. When listening to this CD, you will find yourself roaming through the country hills, fields, and woods of England, a marked difference from the Planets with all of its outer space emphasis.

While all the music on this CD offers enjoyable listening, it is the St. Paul's Suite that is most likely to strongly appeal to the listener. It has gained considerable repute, much more so than the other pieces on this CD. Each of its four movements is a treasure of its own, although the first movement, a Jig, has the strongest effect. Also gaining familiarity with concertgoers is the Brook Green Suite, which is quite similar to St. Paul's Suite, only much shorter. But who has heard the delightful little Fugal Concerto? Written on the voyage to a music festival in Michigan, this concerto is just bursting with vitality, fun, and excitement. Also on this disc is the Double Concerto, Song of the Night, and the Lyric Movement for Viola.

All of these pieces are given stunning performances with Howard Griffiths and the English Sinfonia. They capture the vibrancy in these pieces in well-thought, wonderful way. (Griffiths has also recorded two stunning discs of the music of Gerald Finzi that are simply indispensable.) Go ahead and buy this CD. It will give you hours of listening pleasure.
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Short pieces by Holst, all very agreeable, well recorded - but with a considerable amount of huffing and puffing during A Song of the Night. St Paul's Suite certainly ought to be in your English music collection, and the Lyric Movement for Viola and Chamber Orchestra is a serious-minded composition.

Chandos also has a productive Holst series with high production values, but considerably more expensive.
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on 6 April 2014
I love these pieces - so evocative and wistful, I was stunned by how much it affected me. I don't know about the quality as I have not heard alternative versions, but I rate this as pretty good. Difficult to be clinically objective but as a psychedelic rock fan this took me to that English late Autumn frosty still evening in the quite hills of Shropshire, love the music.
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on 12 February 2013
Glad to hear another piece by Holst - fed up of hearing the Planets - recommended listening. The English Sinfonia living up to their fine record (pun intended).
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on 11 August 2015
Very well performed but not Holst's best work.
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