Guy Johnston / Andrew Davis / BBC Philharmonic Orchestra

Holst: Orchestral Works, Vol. 4

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Gustav Holst was a quintessential late bloomer; he began work on one of classical music's undoubted all-time hits, The Planets, when he was 40. The cycle of Holst orchestral works by the BBC Philharmonic under (mostly) Sir Andrew Davis, proceeding at a deliberate pace (Volume 4 appeared in 2018, five years after Volume 3), has already covered that work, and most of the pieces here are rarely programmed or recorded. They may be of most interest to Holst lovers, but really the album offers an unusual look at the development of a composer's voice, and that ought to be of interest to anyone. Except for the generically late Romantic A Winter Idyll, the other early works on the album contain hints of the mature Holst. In the case of the Invocation for cello and orchestra, Op. 19, No. 2, it's a big hint; the work, in the able hands of cellist Guy Johnston, has the spaciousness and slightly mystical quality of The Planets. Indra, Op. 13 is a short symphonic poem from Holst's Indian period; it is undeniably Wagnerian, and suggests what might have happened had Wagner become interested in Indian culture, but this too was an important step in setting Holst on a different path from that of his contemporary Vaughan Williams. The Symphony in F major, Op. 8 ("Cotswolds"), is in a more pastoral vein, with a fine slow movement, dedicated to the memory of William Morris, the idealistic designer who was one of the highly diverse set of influences on Holst's thinking. The program is filled out by two late works, the Scherzo from a symphony left unfinished at Holst's death, and an orchestral transcription of A Moorside Suite, a brass band work influenced by the neoclassic tide of the 1920s. There are other recordings of some of these works, but not many; the American conductor JoAnn Falletta has a nice light touch with Holst. But Davis and the BBC Philharmonic offer confident, rather brisk readings. A recommended, offbeat Holst release.

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