C1076. JoANN FALLETTA Cond. Ulster Orch.: Gustav Holst Program, (incl. 'The Cotswolds' Symphony). Naxos 8.572914, recorded 2011. - 747313291472
“This release is made up of Gustav Holst’s early orchestral music and, as ever, it is enlightening to hear the immature work of a great composer (which Holst most certainly was). The ‘Walt Whitman Overture’ shows an undigested Wagnerian influence…The orchestral writing is confident nonetheless, particularly the composer’s adventurous use of the brass within the orchestral texture.…the ‘Cotswolds’ Symphony is enjoyable as music per se and, as with the overture and the even earlier tone poem ‘A Winter Idyll’ , Holst’s technical assurance impresses. The only piece on this disc to bring us a recognizable Holst is the ‘Japanese Suite’…In this work…we start to hear those transparent textures and persistent ostinati that speak of the composer’s mature style. Exotica it may be, but Holst shows genuine sensitivity in his representation of Japanese music.
JoAnn Falletta and the Ulster Orchestra are everything they should be: vigorous and energetic when called for, thoughtful and polished throughout, and well recorded…Falletta’s performances are good and this issue brings together a lot of interesting pieces.”
- Phillip Scott, Fanfare, Nov., 2012
“’A Winter Idyll’, the Walt Whitman Overture, and the ‘Cotswolds’ Symphony, all effectively apprentice works…owe much to the example of the great German Romantics….Falletta’s performance improves on the earlier [recordings] in every way….she convinces one that the symphony is much more than just a frame for the moving elegy for socialist visionary William Morris that comprises the second movement. Falletta similarly finds new depth in the transitional symphonic poem ‘Indra’, emphasizing atmosphere and warmth….The ‘Japanese Suite’ is the one work here that is representative of the mature Holst, to the extent that any work can be said to represent a composer who notoriously hated to repeat himself. It reflects his developing interests in things Asian, and in folk music, and it shows him free of the old-school German romantic model.
…clearly there is some good chemistry going in Ulster between its fine orchestra and the new American principal conductor. One can only hope that there will be many more releases like this in the future, and in the superb sound provided by the Grammy-winning producer and engineer, Tim Handley and Phil Rowlands. Definitely a winner.”
- Ronald E. Grames, Fanfare, Nov., 2012
“The tone poem ‘A Winter Idyll’ was composed in 1897. It establishes a mood similar to the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s First (‘Winter Dreams’) Symphony, only to quickly vitiate its effect by a second subject group that could just as easily be called ‘Spring’s Arrived’. The style of the piece mixes Brahms and Wagner, with an almost classical clarity, balancing of content, and effective use of three-part texture….The ‘Walt Whitman Overture’ and Symphony in F reveal Holst as a remarkable orchestrator even as early as his RAM years. He uses full sections, smaller groups, and individual solo instruments (especially the brass) excellently and idiomatically. He thinks in terms of specific instrumental colors. His textures are always clear, and counterpoint comes naturally to him.
I’ve never heard either JoAnn Falletta or the Ulster Orchestra in Wagner, but I’ll bet they could get the right sound without any apparent effort. Theirs is a transparent approach to Holst’s coruscating orchestration rather than a massive one, with an emphasis on momentum, rhythmic clarity, judiciously flexible phrasing, and well-balanced inner parts.
The engineering is excellent. This definitely belongs on the want list of any dedicated Holst fancier, and other listeners might want to at least sample its pleasures, too.”
- Barry Brenesal, Fanfare, Nov., 2012
“…it is good to hear these works played with such panache by the Ulster Orchestra under their new principal conductor, JoAnn Falletta, who gives the ‘Cotswolds’ Symphony a more vigorous outing than does Douglas Bostock with the Munich SO. The slightly later symphonic poem ‘Indra’, Op 13 (1903), though still stylistically inchoate, reveals a major step forwards in terms of the exotic material used to reflect the subject of the Indian legend. Even more exotic, however, is the much more characteristic ‘Japanese Suite’, Op 33 (1916), a fascinating precursor to THE PLANETS. Infused with techniques and sounds that arose from sounds [Holst] drew from hearing Stravinsky for the first time, the work is beautifully performed here, most notably the delicate, crystalline sounds of celesta, harp, woodwind and horn.”
- Jeremy Dibble, Gramophone, Aug., 2012
“The Overture…is an exciting piece of music that deserves an occasional airing at orchestral concerts. [In] The ‘Cotswolds’ Symphony…The ‘finale’ is a joy to behold…this is a well-written piece of music…All in all it is an interesting work…What is most remarkable about this work is the sheer brilliance of the orchestration.
The sound quality of this disc is excellent—as is expected from Naxos. The Ulster Orchestra under their Principal Conductor JoAnn Falletta give an authoritative account of these scores.
Holst enthusiasts will demand this new CD to sit alongside the earlier releases. It is encouraging that Naxos has chosen to record these relatively rare, but extremely worthy pieces.”
- John France, BRITISH CLASSICAL MUSIC: THE LAND OF LOST CONTENT, Aug., 2012
“This is a disc of early works, Romantic in the tradition of [Holst’s] fellow countrymen Parry and Stanford. Heavily influenced by Wagner, the ‘Walt Whitman Overture’ (1899) is a dramatic and buoyant ode to the American poet, whose blend of the transcendental and the realistic was attractive to the young Holst. Even better is the ‘Cotswolds’ Symphony….Filled with delightful English folk themes and centered by a touching Elgarian elegy to the textile designer, artist and utopian socialist William Morris, this work reveals Holst to be an important composer. A sense of nationalistic pride pervades this work, appropriate for a youth in an age when the British empire was at its zenith. ‘A Winter Idyll’ (1897) successfully integrates drama with melody….The symphonic poem ‘Indra’ (1903) reflects Holst’s interest in Indian philosophy. Resplendent with beautiful melodies and a ferocious battle sequence, it summarizes the works on this disc of early Holst orchestral works: dramatic and beautiful; music ravishingly orchestrated and delightful to the ear. JoAnn Falleta and the Ulster Orchestra perform it with gusto and affection, and the recording is excellent.”
- Robert Moon, AUDIOPHILE AUDITION, July 2012
"JoAnn Falletta is an internationally celebrated conductor and champion of American symphonic music. She serves as the music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Brevard Music Center and artistic advisor of the Hawaii Symphony.
Ms. Falletta has guest conducted over a hundred orchestras in North America, and many of the most prominent orchestras in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa. She is the recipient of many of the most prestigious conducting awards and a champion of music of our time, introducing over 500 works by American composers, including more than 110 world premieres. A leading conductor, her discography includes over 90 titles and her discs have won two Grammy Awards and ten Grammy nominations."
- The Orchestra Now