Elgar’s masterpiece concerto was first performed in Bournemouth just days after its premiere in London, such was Dan Godfrey’s desire to get the best of British music down to the south coast. Since that time the work has grown in popular stature with its powerful yet understated evocation of the English countryside and psyche. The music is private and poignant but it still remains a richly lyrical and noble work. It is written as two pairs of movements with the solo cello in full focus with its bold statements and heart-rending themes – the orchestra generally confined to a background colour wash.
The Planets remains by far Holst’s most popular work. Indeed, its popularity came to distress him during his lifetime. He may have achieved, in later years, things that were more profound and more deeply personal in their expression, but The Planets is the first fully effective statement of his maturity; its conception has a boldness, excitement and epic sweep that remain immediately impressive after a hundred hearings. It is one of the 20th century’s great colouristic showpieces. Vaughan Williams once said that the work was “the perfect equilibrium” of Holst’s nature – the melodic, precise and structured, combined with the mystic and unexplainable.