Top positive review
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Mystical Music and Poetic Settings.
on 6 January 2014
I had never heard either of these works before, but was intrigued by a review in Gramophone magazine, which cited the Choral Symphony as "...surely Holst's greatest work". Having heard this recording, I am surprised that there aren't more recordings and performances of these two works - which make a complimentary pair, both being based on poetry - the Mystic Trumpeter uses one by Walt Whitman and the Choral Symphony takes the text from various of John Keats' works.
The Mystic Trumpeter is all about the soprano soloist and Susan Gritton is excellent in the high and demanding part written - while the brass accompany very well throughout in swirling tempos and it all seems to be over very quickly. Too quickly if anything, so it's a welcome relief, that after this mercurial work, there is an hour of similar music still to come. In fact the Mystic Trumpeter acts like an hors d'oeuvre before the main course of the symphony.
Like a conventional symphony there are 4 main movements - but these are subdivided further with the different texts used and there is a short prelude. After this initial Invocation to Pan from the chorus, we are into an exchange between solo viola and soprano, which is both reminiscent of Vaughan Williams' pastoral works and harks back to the Mystic Trumpeter.
The sound here is beautifully captured in the recording, which is excellent throughout. The dynamic range is very wide and we go from solo singers or instrumentalists, to vast sounds including the choir and orchestra. At its peak this is supplemented by huge organ pedal sounds that vibrate through the floor - incredibly impressive. Orchestration is varied and unusual - the Bacchanalian revelry is accompanied by a silvery-sounding array of tuned percussion and you can tell this is the composer of the Planets.
Choral writing is also unusual and the harmonies sound quite distinctive, adding immensely to the overall texture and emotional pull of the work. The scherzo is polytonal and whirls about you in strange rhythms. The finale reaches an early peak - then fades away calmly after a reprise from solo soprano to a peaceful coda, in some ways reminiscent of Bax's symphonies.
Overall there is a huge amount to enjoy here and I'm sure there can't be better a recording quality than this. I have to agree with Jeremy Dibble in Gramophone, when he said : "This is a musical treat which is a must for any lover of Holst and the British choral tradition."