HOLST Egdon Heath; A Somerset Rhapsody; Beni mora
This disc, superbly recorded in the Henry Wood Hall in Glasgow, makes a most welcome addition to Naxos’s growing collection of English music. In every way it provides formidable rivalry for the two excellent full-price Holst discs which substantially overlap with this in repertory – from Richard Hickox on Chandos and from Sir Adrian Boult on Lyrita in vintage performances from around 1970.
Like Hickox, Lloyd-Jones has as his two weightiest items the Hardy-inspired Egdon Heath, arguably Holst’s finest work, as well as the prelude and fugue, Hammersmith, comparably dark and intense. But where Hickox has the latter in its usual orchestral form, Lloyd-Jones chooses the wind-band version, achieving a subtlety of shading in phrasing and dynamic amply to justify that striking choice. The Chandos recording is sumptuous, but the Naxos sound is at least as vividly atmospheric, while letting one hear more inner detail, particularly important in the fugue.
As to interpretation, Hickox is a degree warmer in phrasing and more passionate in his build-up of climaxes, where Lloyd-Jones, generally adopting more flowing speeds closer to those of Boult, is more objective, while bringing out to the full the tenderness and refinement of the writing. Particularly beautiful is the performance of A Somerset Rhapsody which opens the disc, with the cor anglais solo ravishingly played. Boult of course has unique authority in this music, and the Lyrita analogue recordings – among the finest of their period – still sound superb, with clean focus and separation.
Yet quite apart from the intrinsic quality of Lloyd-Jones’s performances with the Scottish orchestra, and the formidable advantage of price, his grouping of works is more generous than that on either rival disc. The six works are neatly balanced, three dating from before the climactic period of The Planets and The Hymn of Jesus, and three after. Particularly valuable – and not included on either rival disc – is the atmospheric Invocation for cello and orchestra of 1911, rather dismissed by Imogen Holst, but here given a yearningly intense, deeply thoughtful performance with Tim Hugh as soloist.
A highly recommendable offering, whether for the dedicated Holstian or the newcomer wanting to investigate this composer’s more characteristic work outside The Planets.'