Lyrical Lyrita Series:
Lyric Movement for Viola and Small Orchestra, Brook Green Suite for Strings, Nocturne for Strings, Fugal concerto for Flute, Oboe, and Strings, St. Paul's Suite for StringsImogen Holst conducting
The English Chamber Orchestra
Pressing: mid-sixties Decca half speed
Keeping things in the family, this disk features the composer’s daughter conducting.
Holst composed the opening piece, the hauntingly beautiful Lyric Movement for Viola, along with the Brook Green Suite in his last 18 months. The emotional warmth of these pieces is largely absent from his earlier music.
The period during which he wrote The Planets contains his most brilliant and colorful orchestral work, including his most popular music with such pieces as the Japanese Suite, Beni-Mora, the Suites on English Folk Songs, St. Paul's Suite, and the ballet music from The Perfect Fool. There is a nearly ten-year gap between the last-named work and his next orchestral composition.
Holst was unprepared for a sudden burst of fame that occurred in 1920, when his choral/orchestral work The Hymn of Jesus bowled over its first audiences and stimulated the first full public performance of The Planets.
Now the girls' school music teacher who liked nothing better than holidays when he could go write music in his soundproofed music room at St. Paul's School, found himself in demand both as a conductor and composer. He came to resent this fame, and to turn from the lush, colorful style of the music that brought it to him. This progress accelerated when a heart problem compelled him to drop much of his work and move to the countryside. There is a gap in his output in nearly all genres in the mid-1920s.” (Joseph Stevenson, http://www.allmusic.com/composition/lyric-movement-for-viola-amp-chamber-orchestra-h-191-mc0002361174)
From her father’s manuscripts, Imogen selected the slow movement from the unfinished arrangement for strings of his Moorside Suite for brass band. This Nocturne for Strings is a fitting end to the late work of Holst on side A.
On Side B, “The Fugal Concerto is just that, "fugal," but not a fugue. But the reference to Bach is not left at that; the slow movement is a witty parergon to the slow movement passacaglia of the Bach’s Fifth keyboard concerto, particularly in its oboe arrangement as the sinfonia to Cantata 156.” (http://www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2006/Sept06/Holst_SRCD209_SRCD223.htm#ixzz2tie0DeAC)
Finishing side B, each of the ever popular St. Paul's Suite’s “four movements is a treasure of its own, although the first movement, a Jig, has the strongest effect.” (Andrew R. Barnard, Amazon Review)
Here is a well done rendition of the finale, ‘The Dargason’: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQevo7M4gm8
And what sonic splendors has the Decca team provided us under Lyrita founder Mr. Itter’s auspices? (The Decca team is unknown, so we assume Kenneth Wilkinson.) Well, to begin, SRCS 34 is only the fourth stereo release which means it is early and the original pressing would allegedly be a half-speed mastered solid state affair. Yet the cutter head used was primitive compared to the later Neumann SX-68 and SX-74 with its pristinely cut, perfectly transduced high frequencies beyond 20,000 Hz. My copy does not have a flip back cover, but my pressing is a 2K stamper matrix which to my ears is not the work of the later above Helium cooled Neumann’s. And life is not so simple to say that the Neumann setups were completely superior as the electronics of the cutting amps would have evolved also, with the general trend away from discrete transistors to integrated circuits and more cost efficient manufacturing. (I’ll stay away from the early half speed Decca/London tube pressings which were not Lyrita and which command big dollars and do sound best generally, despite the inferiority of the cutting heads.) Well for this LP, this early pressing exhibits the best sound I’ve heard from a Decca type pressing of this era (I am including the Decca/London catalog).
We do not have the incredibly pristine extended treble presentation of some of the later Decca pressed Lyritas, but we do have much of this lyricism and this lyrical purity extends down more into the midrange. This lyrical Lyrita purity is a wonderous sound of sublime perfection extending down from the Heavens of the highs. I’ve never heard the likes of this sound from a Decca/London release (or anything else for that matter). The pristine lyricism is here and one wonders what a later pressing, either Decca or Nimbus might offer. The sound quality works extremely well with the works on this release with the St. Paul’s Suite standing out in my mind, but I was somewhat distracted while listening to much of the rest by some highly interesting posts on our site.
This record does get an Honorable Mention in the Supreme Recordings hierarchy and I can see why as the sound floor performance is not top class (though remarkable compared to similar aged Decca/London releases). Bass and dynamics are good, but certainly not great. I do believe this reviewer's system and perhaps the Maestro Salvatore’s system to a greater extent do miss some of the splendors that my good friend the Quadophile’s system can do with these LP's (Basis, Lyra Delos setup with a couple of very interesting preamp combinations and a wonderfully matched amp for the Quads.) My own system is resolving bass and sonic definition better than the quads with a more extended treble presentation, but the Quadophile still achieves better sound overall. I just heard this LP via Quads, but will revisit with side B this time. I certainly would bump it up a notch to the maestro’s Basic List.
I’ll be throwing on some recently acquired Supreme Recordings accolades Decca/London LP's to see if some of these match this lyrical presentation. These typically have a slightly ‘recordy’ sound that did intrude some on the LP under review particular when presenting copious amounts of treble energy. This treble distortion and the ‘recordy’ sound may not be one in the same as the Neumann cuts on Decca or Lyrita rarely distort, though the ‘recordy’ sound persists on the Decca/London LP's (thankfully not to Lyrita, so far in this journey).
A very nice LP sonically, but I have heard better Lyritas. These are special performances with Imogen at the helm of rarely recorded and very stimulating Holst works. A sonic gem for its time which leaves one wondering what the auspices of Mr. Itter entailed.
Performance: 5/5 Sound: 4.5+/5