Holst: Orchestral Works, Vol 2 - Davis
Chandos CHSA 5086
Classical - Orchestral
Holst: The Planets Op. 32, Japanese Suite Op. 39, Beni Mora Op. 29 No. 1
Manchester Chamber Choir
Sir Andrew Davis (conductor)
That The Planets occupies a place at the heart of the English musical repertoire is indisputable, yet much of the orchestral output of Gustav Holst is unjustly neglected. Chandos’ series devoted to the composer demonstrates that he was a composer whose inventiveness and originality was not limited to one work. The series was to have been conducted by Richard Hickox, but Hickox sadly died in 2009 after completing Volume 1. This was released to great critical acclaim, Gramophone stating that ‘Richard Hickox’s final project, reviving little-known Holst works, is a triumph’.
In this second volume, Sir Andrew Davis, an exclusive Chandos artist, has taken the baton, conducting the BBC Philharmonic in a unique programme: The Planets, Holst’s orchestral tour de force, as well as two comparative rarities in the concert hall, the Japanese Suite and Beni Mora.
Review by Graham Williams - January 28, 2011
The tragic death of Richard Hickox in November 2008 threatened to de-rail the Chandos project to record all the orchestral works of Gustav Holst after only the first volume had been issued Holst: Orchestral Works, Vol 1 - Hickox. Happily, the BBC Philharmonic and Sir Andrew Davis were engaged to record the second volume of this series and the result is a resounding success. This volume includes not only two of Holst’s most exotic and attractive scores, the ‘Oriental Suite Beni Mora’ and the rarely heard ‘Japanese Suite’, but also the composer’s most popular work ‘The Planets’; the whole programme adding up to a generous 78’ 24” playing time.
Andrew Davis is undoubtedly the finest conductor of English music before the public today as his many recordings of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Britten and others testify. Those familiar with both his work at the Chicago Lyric Opera and long period as Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in London will know the superlative results he can achieve with his undemonstrative conducting style and a talent placed firmly at the service of the composer.
‘Beni Mora’ (16’50”) and the short six-movement ‘Japanese Suite’ (11’33”) are placed before ‘The Planets’ on this disc, and from the first bars of the former one is not only aware of the cultured sound Davis elicits from the marvellous BBC Philharmonic, but also the superb clarity and presence of the recording. This is in no small way due to the acoustic of Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall, home of both the BBC Philharmonic and Hallé orchestras and one of the two finest concert halls in the UK (the other being Symphony Hall in Birmingham). Both works are given as brilliant performances as one could wish for, and to hear every aspect of Holst’s orchestration, including his extensive use of percussion, reproduced with such vividness is a real aural treat.
At 49’40” Davis’s account of ‘The Planets’ is about an average timing for this work on disc, although comparisons with other recordings reveal quite a range of speeds adopted by different conductors within the suite’s seven movements. Davis’s tempi are in general very well chosen, with one possible exception. The middle section of Jupiter is surely too slow and portentous for the ‘Bringer of Jollity’, but this is just a matter of individual taste. The pedal notes of the Bridgewater Hall’s Marcussen organ makes a tremendous impression in ‘Saturn’ and also in the other movements in which Holst uses it. In ‘Neptune’ it is pleasing to find the ladies of Manchester Chamber Choir balanced with a convincing perspective and fading into silence so effectively.
Special praise must be given to the players of the BBC Philharmonic for their unfailing musicianship and professionalism displayed here in abundance. This orchestra has managed to make many outstanding and award-winning recordings for Chandos in the less-than-ideal acoustic of BBC Studio 7 in New Broadcasting House, so it is a particular delight to hear them captured by recording engineer Stephen Rinker in such magnificent sound in a hall worthy of their playing.
As has been already indicated, this Chandos 5.0 DSD recording is one of the finest I have heard, managing to combine warmth, spaciousness, depth and clarity at all dynamic levels. It has an almost holographic quality will surely bring a smile of pleasure to the face of any audiophile.
Excellent booklet notes by Colin Matthews complete this stunning release.
Recommended without reservation.
Copyright © 2011 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net