Holst Invocation

Music Web International 2nd November 2008

Holst ‘Invocation’ review

Holst, Coles, Butterworth: Salomon Orchestra conducted by Martyn Brabbins, Cheltenham Town Hall. 2.11.2008 (RJ)

“The most overwhelming event of my life.” This was how Gustav Holst described a Festival of his music organised by his home town of Cheltenham back in 1927. If he were to return today he would be even more overwhelmed: his birthplace has become the Holst Birthplace Museum and earlier this year Sir Mark Elder unveiled a statue of him close to Cheltenham Town Hall.

The Salomon Orchestra’s concert, entitled Homage to Holst, sought to recreate that “overwhelming event”, though not in its entirety. The 1927 Festival had included The Somerset Rhapsody, The Fugal Concerto, The Perfect Fool and The Planets. Homage to Holst left out all but The Planets included instead works by two of his contemporaries plus Holst’s own Invocation for cello and orchestra Op 19, No 2.

The Invocation, composed in 1905, lay forgotten for decades. Fortunately it has found a champion in Julian Lloyd Webber who gave a very personal and expressive account of it. The solo cello begins and ends the work in a meditative vein and fragments of the theme are then taken up by the orchestra. Some of the passages had a strong late Romantic feel – more Elgar than Holst – but the Invocation was beautifully played and deserves to be heard more often.

Butterworth was represented in this concert by his idyllic The Banks of Green Willow based on folk music. Cecil Coles, by contrast, is hardly a household name. He was another talented composer who worked with Holst at Morley College before going off to the First World War to meet the same fate as Butterworth and so many others of that generation.

Holst wrote on him that “his genuine love and talent for music ….. worked wonders at a time when wonder of that sort were badly needed”. Such a recommendation clearly inspired conductor Martyn Brabbins to include Coles’ Overture to The Comedy of Errors in the programme. This proved to be an ambitious work of some distinction, full of interesting ideas and imaginative orchestration.

It also served to demonstrate how revolutionary Holst’s Suite: The Planets must have sounded at the time it was composed. Mars the Bringer of War still has the power to terrify and Martyn Brabbins’ forceful conducting of its dark powerful rhythms was uncompromising. But just as compelling was the depiction of Venus and the quicksilver atmosphere of Mercury.

It was difficult to resist the good-humoured, brassy musical attractions of Jupiter, and the dissonance of Saturn was particularly evocative leading to a serenity of sorts. There were plenty of high jinks in Uranus, while in Neptune the music eventually dissolved into the ether by courtesy of the ladies of Cheltenham Bach Choir.

This was a spellbinding performance made all the more remarkable by the fact that the Salomon, now in its 45th year, is not a professional orchestra. However Martyn Brabbins, currently its president, appeared not to have noticed and drove his musicians hard throughout. But they are obviously used to his demands. In 2003, for instance, he conducted them in the whole Beethoven symphonic cycle in the space of one day, and repeated the feat with all the Tchaikovsky symphonies the following year.

The Salomon Orchestra may be amateurs, but their playing sounded thoroughly professional. They also brought something extra to the music – a sense of enthusiasm, commitment and adventure that you do not always find in the ranks of professional symphony orchestras. I like to feel Holst would have been overwhelmed by this concert. However, as one who did so much to encourage amateur music making, he would surely have been delighted with the quality and dedication of these fine musicians.

Roger Jones

The Independent 26th October 2006

Holst ‘Invocation’ review


Dorchester Abbey


Any festival that boasts Boris Johnson as president sounds like a boisterous occasion. Heirs and Rebels, the first English Music Festival to be mounted in and around Dorchester, south Oxfordshire, is devoted to the “diversity, innovation and brilliance” of English composers often neglected in concert programming.

It’s a bold venture. Where else would one bump into the Viola Sonata of Alger- non Ashton, a rhapsody by Elgar’s supporter William Reed, and a suite by Benjamin Dale? Or venture into Lord Berners’ Luna Park, and spot Jeremy Irons narrating Vaughan Williams’s An Oxford Elegy?

The five-day festival’s opening concert was given by the BBC Concert Orchestra, which rapidly made its mark with a blistering fanfare — shades of Tippett and Walton, but cleverly original – newly commissioned from Gareth Wood. Stylish and witty, it could win a place in the repertoire.

The chance to hear rare Holst, scintillatingly played, was welcome. His Walt Whitman Overture of 1899 occupies an attractive netherworld of post-Meistersinger froth; it could have used even more élan than it received here.

Clarinet and viola heralding Vaughan Williams’s Norfolk Rhapsody No 1 unleashed a shiveringly beautiful performance, revelling in the warmth of the folk song idiom, utterly fresh in its day (1906).

The most bracing work was by Britten’s mentor, Frank Bridge. Oration, his haunting cello concerto, is a passionate outcry against the ravages of the Great War. The inexorable trudge of its dark, passacaglia-like cortege, chromatic and knotty, seemed to sum up the miseries f the Front. Julian Lloyd Webber proved utterly sympathetic to the angst-ridden solo line, as the cello strives to extricate a pained and poignant lyricism from the tensions of the orchestral hinterland.

Lloyd Webber returned for more Hoist — his rarely- heard Invocation (1911)— for a memorable second half contribution. Yet it was Sullivan who made the running his Irish Symphony given the full works, setting the pace for the symphonies of Stanford to come. Patently English music, and palpably alive and kicking.

Roderic Dunnett

Daily Telegraph 23rd October 2006

Holst ‘Invocation’

Missing out on many good things in Dorchester

English Music Festival


It would be difficult to imagine a more fragrant spot than Dorchester-on-Thames in Oxfordshire for this first English Music Festival, but equally it would be disingenuous to claim that the village is on everyone’s doorstep. Maybe it was the rural seclusion that contributed to the fact that the abbey was hardly heaving with patrons for the flagship inaugural concert on Friday, given by the BBC Concert Orchestra under David Lloyd-Jones.

The modest attendance was a pity, because a great deal of passion had gone in to planning this event, and the programming was out of the ordinary. As Boris Johnson, the festival’s president, said last week, there is no need to apologise for English music when, as we heard here, there are works of strength by the likes of Hoist, Vaughan Williams ad Frank Bridge.

The most familiar item was Sullivan’s “Irish Symphony”, in itself scarcely a core repertoire work, and, it must be said, not the most persuasive either. But two different facets of Hoist were more interesting. On the one hand, there was his “Invocation” for cello and orchestra, travelling very much in the same orbit as “Venus” from The Planets. On the other, there was his “Walt Whitman Overture”, in which “The Planets” seemed to be light years away. The overture is an early work, a robust piece in which the German influences of Wagner, Mendelssohn and Strauss are barely concealed, but it had an exhilarating thrust which Lloyd-Jones and the orchestra harnessed spiritedly.

The evening had started with a rousing, celebratory fanfare by Gareth Wood, written for the BBC’s current Listen Up! series embracing a broad spectrum of British orchestras and of which this concert was a part. Vaughan Williams’s “Norfolk Rhapsody” No 1 evoked a quieter, mistier Englishness of the fens, beautifully and supply played and intriguing in the way that its line gusts of woodwind filigree seemed to pre-echo devices that Britten employed to moot the mystery of Suffolk in “Peter Grimes”.

The soloist in Holst’s “Invocation” was Julian Lloyd Webber, who also played Bridge’s “Oration”, a work haunted by memories of the First World War. Darkly rhapsodic, brooding and bitter, the music is intensely reflective, and Lloyd Webber’s performance encompassed a range of affecting emotion that was deeply poignant.

Geoffrey Norris

Penguin CD Guide 2001

English Idyll

‘English idyll’ (with ASMF, Neville Marriner):

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Romanza. ELGAR: Romance in D min.. Op. 62; Une idylle, Op. 4/1.

Discs: 2 Pieces for cello and chamber orchestra. GRAINGER: Youthful rapture; Brigg Fair (arrangement).

DYSON: Fantasy. IRELAND: The holy boy. WALFORD DAVIES: Solemn melody.

Holst: Invocation, Op. 19/2. Cyril Scott: Pastoral and reel.

The highlights of Julian Lloyd Webber’s programme of English concertante miniatures are the Holst Invocation, with its nocturnal mood sensitively caught, and George Dyson’s Fantasy, where the playing readily captures Christopher Palmer’s description: ‘exquisitely summery and sunny — its chattering moto perpetuo evokes images of bees and butterflies’. Grainger’s passionate Youthful raptlure is given just the right degree of ardent espressivo, as are Delius’s warmly flowing Caprice and Elegy, written (during the composer’s last Fenby period) for Beatrice Harrison.

The two transcriptions, Vaughan Williams’s Romanza (originally part of the Tuba concerto) and the Elgar Romance, conceived with the bassoon in mind, were both arranged for the cello by their respective composers and are effective enough in their string formats, although by no means superseding the originals. However, Lloyd Webber gives the full romantic treatment both to John Ireland’s simple tone-picture, The holy boy, and to Grainger’s arrangement of Brigg Fair, to which not all will respond. For the closing Cyril Scoff Pastoral and reel (with its telling drone effect) he returns to a more direct style, with pleasing results. Sympathetic accompaniments and warm, atmospheric recording.