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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Gustav Holst - The Cloud Messenger; The Hymn of Jesus (Richard Hickox)


Composer: Gustav Holst
  1. The Cloud Messenger, for contralto solo, chorus & orchestra, Op. 30: 'O thou, who com'st from heaven's king'
  2. The Cloud Messenger, for contralto solo, chorus & orchestra, Op. 30: 'Tarry not, O Cloud, tarry not. Rushing northward through the sky thou seemest a mountain peak…'
  3. The Cloud Messenger, for contralto solo, chorus & orchestra, Op. 30: Contralto solo. 'Tarry not, O Cloud, tarry not'
  4. The Cloud Messenger, for contralto solo, chorus & orchestra, Op. 30: Chorus (bassi). 'Tarry not, O Cloud. Bow thy head.'
  5. The Cloud Messenger, for contralto solo, chorus & orchestra, Op. 30: Chorus. 'When the dancers are weary, and the minstrels sink down to slumber'
  6. The Hymn of Jesus, for chorus, semi-chorus & orchestra, Op. 37: Prelude
  7. The Hymn of Jesus, for chorus, semi-chorus & orchestra, Op. 37: The Hymn

Della Jones, contralto (1-5)
London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Richard Hickox, conductor

Date: 1990
Label: Chandos



Here is a real discovery. In her book on her father's music, Imogen Holst dismissed The Cloud Messenger as ''a dismal failure'' and in his recent study of the composer Michael Short is not much more enthusiastic. Yet probably neither author heard the work in performance. Holst himself regarded it as important and was deeply despondent when its first performance in 1913 was a failure. Since then it has hardly been heard and this recording is almost certainly the first fully professional performance for decades.

So once again a fatal initial verdict has kept fine music from listeners for the best part of a century. The Cloud Messenger proves to be a lengthy (45 minutes) and large-scale work of considerable imaginative power, a setting of a Sanskrit text translated by Holst. Its scope makes the appearance of The Planets as his next work much less surprising. There are one or two weak passages, as there are in Vaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony, but very many more of striking beauty, superbly written for the choir and imaginatively scored. Some episodes are prophetic of The Hymn of Jesus, which is also included on this disc. Imogen Holst seems to have disapproved of the romantic strain in some of Holst's pre-1914 works, deriding them as ''Wagnerian''. I think the combination of warmth and ascetic ecstasy is what gives Holst his originality, and I hope that Richard Hickox's enterprise in unearthing this superb work will be rewarded by its restoration to its rightful place. Performance and recording alike are first-rate, with Della Jones a dramatic soloist in the middle section.

There has never been any question about the mastery of The Hymn of Jesus. Perhaps Boult's restrained approach (coupled with The Dream of Gerontius on a two-disc set from Decca) comes nearer to what Holst intended, but there is certainly room for Hickox's more expansive interpretation. In any case, though, it's The Cloud Messenger that makes this disc unmissable for devotees of British music—and, I hope, by others. Dismal failure, my foot!

-- Gramophone

More reviews:


Gustav Holst (21 September 1874 – 25 May 1934) was an English composer, arranger and teacher. Best known for his orchestral suite The Planets, he composed a large number of other works across a range of genres, although none achieved comparable success. Apart from The Planets and a handful of other works, his music was generally neglected until the 1980s, since when recordings of much of his output have been available. His distinctive compositional style was the product of many influences, including Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, English folk songs and modern composers such as Maurice Ravel.


Richard Hickox (5 March 1948 – 23 November 2008) was an English conductor of choral, orchestral and operatic music. He served as Artistic Director of the Northern Sinfonia (1982-1990), Associate Guest Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra (1985-2008) and Principal Conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales (2000-2006). His recording repertoire concentrated on British music, in which he made a number of recording premieres for Chandos Records (he made over 280 recordings for this company) and won five Gramophone Awards.


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