April 2009

Holst - The Ballet from "The Perfect Fool," *The Golden Goose, The Lure, *The Morning of the Year
BBC National Orchestra of Wales, *The Joyful Company of Singers; Richard Hickox, cond.
Chandos CHSA 5069
Format: Hybrid Multichannel SACD
Released: 2009

by Rad Bennett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

British composer Gustav Holst (1874-1934) is best known for his colorful suite The Planets, which has received numerous recordings that have stood as testament to both the composer’s mastery of orchestration and a recording engineer’s ability to capture it for posterity. But Holst wrote many other compositions in which his use of orchestral instruments is just as remarkable. This appealing SACD collects four of the best, two of them with chorus added to the instruments, all four pertaining to the dance.

Holst’s opera The Perfect Fool was initially no great success, its failure blamed on the composer’s inability to provide a workable libretto. Its ballet sequence, however, has become Holst’s second-best-known orchestral work. The colorful orchestration and brilliant use of all instruments makes this eleven-and-a-half-minute piece into a mini concerto for orchestra. The Lure, coming from the same period (1918-1922), is musically similar. The Golden Goose and The Morning of the Year (1926-1927) skillfully add chorus to the proceedings, with the former being a retelling of the famous Grimm Brothers story, and the latter a impressive marriage of folk and concert music.

The Welsh musicians play expertly, and Richard Hickox has a good feeling for the lyrical flow of the music, if not always its underlying drama. This was intended as volume one in a projected series, but Hickox’s sudden death last year has dashed that idea into limbo. The recorded sound here is warm, rich, and relatively clean. There isn’t a lot of depth to the soundstage, nor is there maximum presence, but the result is agreeable enough, and the rear-channel ambience seems just right.

If you love good melodies, be they folk, noble, stirring, or reflective, and appreciate master orchestration and the discovery of unjustly neglected music, this disc ought to be a rewarding discovery.