HOLST First Choral Symphony. The Mystic Trumpeter
While this recording embodies a special poignancy – it was after the first take of the First Choral Symphony in Swansea in 2008 that Richard Hickox fell ill and died – there is something affirmative about its authority and triumph. This is a quite stunning recording in which two works of Holst represent the peak of his creative gifts; one, The Mystic Trumpeter, of his emerging post-Wagnerian facility, the other, the First Choral Symphony, when he was at the height of his powers. Susan Gritton is majestic in her delivery of Holst’s seamless declamation in the much-neglected The Mystic Trumpeter, a score which, though it imparts Straussian moments, has a wonderful lyrical Schwung and an orchestral facility to rival any of his German contemporaries. It is also not hard to see how this work led to the masterpieces of Sa¯vitri (1908) and The Planets (1914 18), and then on to the metaphysical exploration of Keats in the First Choral Symphony of 1923.
This is surely Holst’s greatest work. Andrew Davis is fast becoming the most incisive and authoritative interpreter of British music and this wonderful recording is testimony. The BBC SO and Chorus have a tremendous, pregnant vibrancy in the initial ‘Invocation to Pan’ (surely one of Holst’s most visionary gestures), and the subsequent viola solo and soprano dialogue has a magical pastoral quality to rival Vaughan Williams. Davis’s control of the processional slow movement is outstanding but most electrifying is the polytonal Scherzo, performed with such rhythmic precision and conviction; and the transition to the visionary coda outstrips The Planets in terms of its orchestration and experimentation. This is a musical treat which is a must for any lover of Holst and the British choral tradition.