HOLST Chamber Music
‘Whatever his hand found to do he did it with his might’, wrote Vaughan Williams of his friend Gustav Holst, and this disc collecting all Holst’s chamber music for woodwinds (which is to say, practically all his chamber music) shows exactly what he meant. It’s not that everything here is entirely typical. There’s a Schumannesque quality about the student piano-and-wind Quintet of 1896, and naughty hints of Richard Strauss and the French school in the contemporaneous E minor Sextet (its first recording, though the disc doesn’t say so). In the Three Pieces for oboe and strings (recomposed in 1910) and the reasonably familiar Wind Quintet (1903, though Holst later disowned it) a recognisable voice emerges. And with the polytonal Terzetto of 1925 (performed here with clarinet instead of viola, an option Holst authorised) he’s in full, visionary flight. These two exquisite movements could almost be offcuts from Sa¯vitri.
But everything here has an unmistakable assurance: a composer entirely confident in whatever voice he chose to speak. And that’s what comes across in these delightfully fresh and characterful performances from the Hamburg-based Ensemble Arabesques. A photo in the booklet shows them recording standing up, which might account for the sheer immediacy of their playing. The acoustic gives them as much space as they need, and these artists are clearly all on the same page, leaning into the music with a bright-eyed enthusiasm that doesn’t preclude either a sense of mystery in the Terzetto or an unforced instinct for the music’s poetry: the way they let the Adagio of the Wind Quintet sink imperceptibly into slumber is particularly lovely. It’s a joy, too, to hear works usually dismissed as juvenilia really played rather than patronised, and I found myself returning to this disc with increasing pleasure.