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Joseph Holbrooke: Violin Sonata n° 1, opus 6a – Horn Trio, opus 28 – Violin Concerto (“The Grasshopper”), opus 59 – L’Extase, opus 55, N° 2
Mark Smith (horn), Kerenza Peacock (violin), Robert Stevenson (piano)
Recorded at Menuhin Hall, Cobham, Surrey (January 4-6, 2011) – 74’59
Naxos #8.572649 – Booklet in English

Obscure composers who’ve never quite landed within classical music’s venerable halls are being rediscovered by a select few, opening the doors to new modalities and alternative tonal expressions. With the likes of Britten, Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Delius, their names hold perpetuity through their well revered compositions, yet Joseph Holbrooke’s name, though widely known at the time, went into virtual extinction upon his death. Why the abrupt change? Maybe because Holbrooke rubbed people the wrong way partly due to his eccentric and abrasive personality.

Robert Stevenson, whose career in management consultancy, nonetheless, continues to be active in the musical world though his accomplished talents as pianist and has gone to great lengths to bring attention to many of these long forgotten individuals through his own recording ventures. Stevenson’s peripheral vision has scoped Holbrooke as a bona fide artist and found his creations quite significant in furthering the development of classical music within the United Kingdom. A bountiful collection of Holbrooke trio compositions has permitted Stevenson to tap into this vastly rich treasure, and in this particular undertaking, of piano, violin and horn.

Each selection is quite unique. Violin and piano are played in concert with exception of the Horn Trio which includes the shining display of Mark Smith’s brass craftsmanship. Few classical compositions have revolved around the horn. Quite possibly, Holbrooke’s inspiration was drawn from Johannes Brahms’ Horn Trio, opus 40; however, the Englishman paints altogether his own distinct character and sentimentality. All three movements are original and emotionally charged. What begins with the rolling and pulsating “Larghetto sostenuto” is followed by the smooth and silky tinges of the “Adagio non troppo” in which Smith’s dexterity takes front and center stage concluding with the animated “Molto vivace.”

Overall, the Horn Trio is a melodious ramble, but directionless and lacking any sort of intrinsic sustenance. This, however, contrasts nicely with one of Holbrooke’s Mezzo-Tints, L’Extase that has Kerenza Peacock coloring the score with shimmering legato.

Holbrooke’s Violin Sonata n° 1, opus 6a begins with a tuneful “Allegro” distantly reminiscent to Schubert’s Trout Quintet. This “Sonatina” has a sort of 1920s Great Gatsby rhythmic quality that carries forward with an extemporaneous “Nocturne” and then the dichotomous “Scherzo”, finally returning to the jeau d’esprit “Rondo” in an abstracted state of the first movement.

But perhaps the most fetching composition on this recording is the Violin Concerto “The Grasshopper” highlighting the airy reaches of Kerenza Peacock’s strings alongside the buoyancy of Robert Stevenson’s piano in which both switch off playing the melody in the “Allegro con molto fuoco.” Subsequently Peacock’s treble flights reign soulfully in Holbrooke’s “Adagio non troppo con molto espressione.” The Grasshopper finishes with the “Maestoso – Vivace giocoso” that resumes the weaving melody lines between piano and violin. Here Ms. Peacock demonstrates the segment’s multi-layered and textured capriciousness that ends in a mesmerizing climax. Her performance is empyrean.

If a spotlight were to shine on Joseph Holbrooke’s music, it would on this Naxos recording for the Stevenson/Peacock/Smith triumvirate has given the composer due honor and justified commendation. Someone seeking a diversion from the expectant will want to explore this compilation further.

Christie Grimstad




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