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Spending time with Gustav Holst

By Brentwood Gazette  |  Posted: November 15, 2012

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I HAVE been spending a pleasant 10 weeks in Thaxted with a group of Workers' Educational Association students, and although the theme is Film Music, we keep coming back to a name associated with the place.

Gustav Holst lived both near and in Thaxted, and it was here that he sketched The Planets, one of the most famous British orchestral works.

It is less well-known orchestral compositions by him that feature in a compilation recorded by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by American JoAnn Falletta.

Recorded last year, the choice reveals a youthful Holst writing under the influence both of Brahms and Wagner. The major work is a Symphony entitled The Cotswold which hints at folk song but also has a movement inspired by William Morris. The works may be a world away from The Planets, but provide a fascinating overview of a composer in development and the playing is excellent (Naxos 8.572914).

About the time Holst was writing his Overture Walt Whitman, Russian Jews were once again feeling the tightening grip of anti-semitism.

These episodes provided the basis for many of the stories about Jewish Communities in Russian and, in turn, enabled Jerry Bock to write his bitter-sweet musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

The musical is enjoying a run this week at the Cliffs Pavilion in Southend. The production opened on Wednesday and runs until Saturday with Thursday and Saturday matinees (Box office 01702 351135).

On Sunday, November 18, the London Mozart Players with Howard Shelley, both conducting and playing the piano, perform at the Civic Theatre at 7.30pm. The programme opens with a Mozart overture and ends with Beethoven's Symphony No 7. In between comes Grieg's Piano concerto, and there is a pre-concert talk at 6.30pm. To book, call 01245 606505.

Holst is buried in West Sussex, and a near contemporary John Ireland also loved the county. His orchestral music is brilliantly scored as it is descriptive of places or events.

Sir Adrian Boult's celebrated recordings of Ireland's music with the London Philharmonic are now available again and for my money, the best is here including the wonderfully energetic London Overture and the music from the 1947 from The Overlanders (Lyrita SRCD 240) – so back to Thaxted.

Chris Green

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