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Maria Nockin
Fanfare, March 2012

The three players are excellent and the butter-smooth tones of Mark Smith’s horn blend beautifully with Peacock’s violin and Stevenson’s piano.

The disc’s sound is clear and the instruments are individually well placed. Kerenza Peacock plays the Crespi Stradivarius from 1699, which has a radiant tone but still blends well with the horn and the piano. © 2012 Fanfare Read complete review on Fanfare

Duncan Druce
Gramophone, November 2011

All the performances are of a high standard, often brilliant and imaginative, and I was particularly impressed with Kerenza Peacock’s lithe, elegant violin-playing and her easy conquest of the virtuoso demands of The Grasshopper.

To read the complete review, please visit Gramophone online.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, October 2011

…here’s a welcome new sampling of his considerable chamber output. It includes the first two of his three violin sonatas, a horn trio, and a short piece for violin and piano. The versions presented here are all world premiere recordings.

Confusion over conception dates, myriad revisions and opus numbers associated with many of Holbrooke’s works abounds. Unfortunately that applies to all of the ones on this CD. But rather than going into more detail here, you’re advised to see our pianist Robert Stevenson’s extensive album notes on the subject.

…the first sonata…falls easily on the ear, and as Mr. Stevenson…so rightly points out, there’s a stylistic affinity with similar pieces written between 1865 and 1893 by Dvořák (1841–1904) and Grieg (1843–1907).

Holbrooke’s second sonata…which he called “The Grasshopper”…comes off as more of a concerto for violin and piano than a sonata. Its nickname would seem to reflect frequent intervalic leaps executed by the violin in the first and last movements.

Horn trios are few and far between, making this outstanding one by Holbrooke [tracks-5 through 6] an all the more significant contribution to the genre.

Said to be considerably more difficult than the Brahms, the first of its three movements gets off to a languid start. But it soon shifts into high gear with a piquant idea elaborated by the horn and violin to a bustling piano accompaniment. The closing coda is a horny delight, so to speak.

In the rhapsodic adagio which follows the composer spins out a couple of moving melodies, again on the horn and violin. Occasionally there are some more of those fairy dust high notes on the violin (see above) that add some sparkle to the somber horn part.

The spirited finale gives everyone a chance to strut their stuff in a lively modern day gavotte. It ends an exceptional sonata for this rare combination of instruments in a state of jubilant optimism.

…“L’Extase” (“Ecstasy”) as done here with violin [track-11], makes for an ideal encore. It ends this enterprising disc of discovery on a nostalgic note, and reminds us what an accomplished melodist Holbrooke could be.

Our soloists on this CD are violinist Kerenza Peacock, hornist Mark Smith and pianist Robert Stevenson…All of them are exceptional performers who play this music with a commitment and sensitivity that would probably have even pleased the peevish composer. A special round of applause goes to Ms. Peacock for some stunning fiddling, and Mr. Smith for an impeccable performance on a notoriously unpredictable instrument.

Both receive ideal support from pianist Stevenson, who conjures up an impressive keyboard equivalent of an orchestra in the concerto-sonata.

The recordings were made in Menuhin Hall, Surrey, England, which would appear to be wood-paneled. This probably helps explain the magnificent sonics, which project a soundstage commensurate with these small chamber groups in an ideally reverberant acoustic. All of the instruments are perfectly captured and balanced, except for a couple of spots where one might want Ms. Peacock a bit more in the spotlight. Silky violin tone, a honeyed horn, and immaculate well-rounded piano sound make for a demonstration quality disc.

Matthew Rye
The Strad, October 2011

First rate performances do little to pin down a little-known composer’s style

Joseph Holbrooke (1875–1958) is best remembered, if at all, for his Wagner-aping cycle of Celtic music dramas, but he was prolific in all fields of music. These chamber works reveal what pianist Robert Stevenson admits in his booklet note as the composer’s lack of a distinctive compositional voice. The trio for horn, violin and piano has obvious Brahmsian precedent but little of the German composer’s stylistic distinction, and there’s nothing notably “English” about the music of the violin works. The best comes in the concerto, a work that exists in versions with piano and with orchestra, and also in a simplified alternative as a sonata. Kerenza Peacock, violinist with the Paveo Quartet, makes a good case for the piano-accompanied original, and demonstrates real panache and determinedness in the plethora of double-stopped passages as well as a nimbleness that copes well with the jumping lines that give the work its “Grasshopper” nickname. Elsewhere, the First Violin Sonata rather struggles to rise above the level of the salon, though Peacock tends to its melodies lovingly. The Horn Trio, too, offers her plenty of moments in the limelight, but the material is stronger and inspires slick ensemble work with the horn player Mark Smith and the agile Stevenson. The sound feels a bit dry but there’s a gain in clarity.

Christie Grimstad, September 2011

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.

Records International, September 2011

As the pianist-notewriter points out, we don’t have enough Holbrooke on disc to say what he “sounds like”; there are strong influences of Brahms in his early mature period just after 1900, he was able to write (and wrote a lot of) singable melodies which appear both in his serious and “light” music while a couple of pieces yet to be heard performed have “Oriental” subtitles. You won’t often find over eight pages of notes in a Naxos release but you will here, as Stevenson provides biography, contemporary commentary and his own detailed notes on each of the pieces recorded here, all of which are approachable, melodic, sometimes virtuosic and which will eventually help us to say what Joseph Holbrooke sounds like.

John France
MusicWeb International, August 2011

The best place to start this excellent new CD of music by Josef Holbrooke is the short character piece L’Extase from the Mezzotints Op. 55. This is one of a group of pieces that the composer wrote for clarinet or violin and piano. Robert Stevenson, in the liner notes writes that these were actually part of a bigger project of a dozen pieces which were conceived as being one for each month of the year. However the compositional history appears to be quite convoluted.

In a dissertation on Holbrooke’s chamber music Joseph Dee Webb has suggested that Op.55 has eight pieces which were published in two volumes. They are listed there as Volume 1 Op.55, nos.1–3 L’Extase, Albanian Serenade, Celtic Elegie, and Op.55 nos. 5–8 Canzonetta ‘Spring Song’ (8) ‘The Butterfly of the Ballet’ (6), Girgenti (Cavatina) (7) and finally From Syracuse (5). Apparently the clarinet quintet Eilean Shona…may have been a part of this collection. They were originally published in 1918; however it is not possible to assign a date of composition.

In spite of all this confusion L’Extase is a lovely romantic little work that holds the listener’s attention. Let us hope that someone will record the entire ‘cycle’ of Mezzotints before too long.

The Violin Sonata No. 1 which is subtitled ‘Sonatina’ is deceptive. The soubriquet certainly does not do this 20-minute work justice. In fact, it is a classically conceived sonata in four well-balanced movements. However, the listener will not find any great emotional depth in it: George Lowe has suggested that it is ‘a bright and pleasant composition…[that] skates over the surface of things.’ Yet there is a beauty and attractiveness about the unfolding of this work that manages to hold the listener’s attention.

From the opening of the allegro in a rather optimistic minor key the movement explores a couple of pleasant themes. These resolve themselves after a short development into a traditional reprise. The ‘Nocturne’ is delightful if not particularly profound. There is certainly something of the ‘palm-court’ about it. The Scherzo is an interesting little number that does not really challenge, but is enjoyable all the same. There may well be a touch of Mendelssohn about this music, but it does not really matter.

It is with the last movement that one of Holbrooke’s fingerprints emerges: the nod towards popular music, in this case music-hall songs. Certainly, the main rondo theme is particularly charming.

The work was probably composed in the late 1890s and was duly dedicated to the great Fritz Kreisler. Stevenson suggests that this was probably more in hope than in anticipation of a performance by the maestro. The work was considerably revised over the next decade or so until it was finally published in 1907.

This is a Sonata that does not move mountains, but is well worth listening to. It is enjoyable and heart-warming from end to end.

I fell in love with the Horn Trio (c.1906) on first hearing. It is a charming and optimistic work that surely demands to be in the repertoire. In fact, Robert Stevenson has suggested that one of the motivations to write this work may have been that any performances of Brahms’ Horn Trio, Op.40 would have required a companion piece in order to present a full concert. Interestingly it is regarded as being technically more demanding than the Brahms work. George Lowe has written that ‘this Trio…is one of the brightest and most genial of Holbrooke’s works. It is uniformly melodious, and, in its middle movement, attains to considerable dignity and beauty of expression. Its sentiment has, to a large extent, been suggested by lines from Byron’s Don Juan:—

‘There’s music in the sighing of a reed
There’s music in the gushing of a rill
There’s music in all things if men had ears
Their earth is but an echo of the spheres.’

The Horn Trio is in three movements:—a ‘larghetto sostenuto-allegro con brio’, an ‘adagio ma non troppo’ and a concluding ‘molto vivace’. The work was dedicated to the German horn player Adolf Borsdorf (1854–1923). Interestingly there are a number of problems in the compositional history of this work, and these have been addressed in the liner notes and in Music & Letters, October 1965 by Kenneth L. Thompson. However these scholarly concerns need not distract us from a delightful and often rather beautiful work.

I found the slow movement the most enchanting, with a delicious dialogue between the horn and the violin. However the opening movement has many delightful moments. Yet it is the finale that sets its seal on the positive and ultimately cheerful nature of this work.

I guess most people will be curious to know two things about the Violin Concerto ‘The Grasshopper’ (Violin Sonata No. 2) Op.59. Firstly, why has it gained the nickname ‘Grasshopper’ and secondly why does the title mention that this is a Violin Concerto as well as a Violin Sonata. Certainly the solo part may well suggest the behaviour of this creature, with its often lively and ‘frenetic leaping around.’ In 1937 Havergal Brian suggested that the piece may have been inspired (in part) by the Richard Lovelace poem of the same title:—

Oh thou that swing’st upon the waving haire
Of some well-filled Oaten Beard,
Drunke ev’ry night with a Delicious teare
Dropt thee from Heav’n, where now th’art reard.

However, I think that it is advisable to hear this work without recourse to any mental images of insects or recalling any lines of poetry.

The compositional and cataloguing history of this piece is even more complex than that of the Mezzotints and the Horn Trio. There is even an alternative final movement. All this is discussed in considerable detail in the liner notes. However, it is worth pointing out that the work exists in two incarnations—the Concerto with orchestra and the Sonata (with some simplifications of the solo part) as played here. It is important to note that the ‘difficult’ version of the fiddle part is performed in the last movement.

This is a lovely sonata that is chock-full of good tunes for the soloist and an interesting piano part. A contemporary reviewer suggested that it was a work ‘overflowing with milk and honey’. Certainly it is a positive piece that is satisfying and enjoyable. It is difficult to categorise but it is more in the classical tradition than a romantic tour de force between soloist and pianist.

The work’s orchestral premiere was on 7 November 1917 at a Leeds Philharmonic Society concert with the Hallé Orchestra conducted by the composer. However the ‘reduced’ version had been performed at the Crane Hall in Liverpool on 22 January 1917.

There is a hint in the liner-notes that a recording of the orchestral version may be forthcoming, as well as another incarnation of the Horn Trio. Also Robert Stevenson suggests that the ‘sonata’ version of the final movement may be available at some stage.

Naxos has to be congratulated on this excellent CD. For far too long Josef Holbrooke’s music has been ignored. Over the last ten years or so a few pieces have begun to appear in the record catalogues. …there is a huge catalogue of music waiting to be explored, including some eight operas, a variety of concertos, eight symphonies, a number of orchestral pieces and a great deal of chamber works. These last two groups have been explored on CD—but much remains to discover.

Kerenza Peacock, Mark Smith and Robert Stevenson play all four works in a convincing and enthusiastic manner: they are excellent advocates for Holbrooke’s music. Finally the liner-notes by Robert Stevenson are exemplary: it is a major essay that considers Holbrooke’s status as a composer and a detailed consideration of the works presented. Would that programme-note writers generally were as committed to the historical and analytical side of music-making.

Finally, I can only hope that Naxos will embark on further recording projects of Holbrooke’s music: even the briefest glance at the catalogues will suggest a number of avenues worthy of exploration.

Rob Barnett
MusicWeb International, August 2011

When I called for ‘more please’ at the end of my review of Robert Stevenson’s last CD of rare British violin sonatas I had no idea that within three years there would an all-Holbrooke volume to follow. The issue of the present volume means that all three of the Holbrooke violin sonatas are available on disc.

Holbrooke’s reputation rather like that of his friend and fellow Brightonian (briefly) is dogged by the forbidding mirage of works of huge length for massive orchestras. While a handful of Brian’s match the image most of his symphonies are pretty short. As for Holbrooke his Cauldron of Annwn operatic trilogy is big; nothing approaching Sorabji. So are works such as the second symphony Apollo and the Seaman and the Poe-based A Choral Symphony. The score of The Bells, which runs to about half an hour, calls for a massive orchestra with plenty of esoteric add-ons. However his other tone poems and much else is on a smaller scale. If we, for now, ignore the mass of piano solos, songs and choral brevities we can, courtesy of Naxos and these artists, spend time in the company of his chamber music which forms the focus of this collection.

The Violin Sonata No. 1 is polished, charming, good-humoured and urbane. This was written in the benevolent shade cast by the violin sonatas of Schumann and Beethoven. Its pages are suffused with the grateful salon-luxury of Kreisler to whom it was dedicated. It is a most accomplished and fluent work with good themes and a winking eye to instant engagement with audiences. If you like high-tide romantic violin sonatas without the more torrid emotional extremes of the Walter and Marx then this will reward your attention over and over.

The bigger Horn Trio in D is in three movements broadly cast in the same language. Here however the moods are more subtle and nuanced with a ready aptitude for darkness. The music has depth and while in the Sonatina one may think of Dvořák or Kreisler at his finest, here the references are Josef Suk and even Rachmaninov whose middle two piano concertos Holbrooke reputedly played in concert. The finale is no let-down though at times it picks up on the sometimes gawky wit of the Sonatina woven with a sense of victorious majesty. Readers can experience the last movement of the revised version of the Trio at

The Second Violin Sonata rejoices under various titles even as a chamber work. There is also a parallel version of the Violin Concerto known as The Grasshopper. Holbrooke wrote only one such violin concerto.

The opening Allegro con molto fuoco scorches along in late-romantic style making demands that Kerenza Peacock meets head-on. Again there are some Rachmaninovian touches but this is most reminiscent of a surgingly confident Schumann work—perhaps one written had the composer lived into a fluent old age. The work is torrentially articulated and swirls and eddies with delightful invention. Try the high-lying violin solo at the end of the first movement. The big central Adagio is tremulously heartfelt and long-limbed. Ms Peacock plays with affecting Delian tenderness. The finale leaps, dazzles, chirrups and gleams with a touch of the Glazunov Violin Concerto about it.

To finish there is a bonne-bouche in the shape of one of the much arranged Mezzotints—souvenirs of a Mediterranean honeymoon cruise with his millionaire benefactor, Lord Howard de Walden and the Lord’s wife. L’Extase is a fluttering Duparc or Chausson-like thing that moves into tenderness. I hope that one day we will hear the full sequence. An account of the history of the Mezzotints is set out in a note below.

The horn is a thrawn presence to balance in chamber hall or on disc. Here it is most equably voiced and weighted with the other two ‘voices’. Listen to the way at 5:30 the horn sings smoothly over the other instruments without obliterating them. A notable achievement for Michael Ponder—one time viola player who championed the Bantock viola sonata. His contribution deserves special attention.

All three players are far from cautious and radiate all the out and out commitment these scores invite. Robert Stevenson is a fine pianist and his playing—and that of his colleagues—reflects his sympathy, sensitivity, skill and enthusiasm in these unknown scores. The music and its playing will gratify and surprise.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2011

An abrasive character who could not accept criticism or advice is the picture that has been handed down of the highly prolific British composer, Joseph Holbrooke. Whatever his shortcomings, can we really dismiss him as a British eccentric when we here have this perfectly crafted Horn Trio? True it is a spin-off from Richard Strauss, and was probably fashioned by Holbrooke to form a companion piece to the Brahms Horn Trio for concert purposes. It would certainly make a most agreeable curtain-raiser to that august work. Using the horn as the linchpin, the violin and piano help to bedeck its thematic material, the central Adagio a lyric outpouring from the late Romantic era. It probably dates from 1904 and would have been music of its time that predates the influences of the Second Viennese School. The First Violin Sonata was also an early score from the late 1890’s, Holbrooke’s confused life leaving dates and opus numbers jumbled and at times misleading. He also described it as a ‘Sonatina’, thinking in hindsight that it was rather lightweight. His Second Sonata is a violin and piano version of the Violin Concerto, ‘The Grasshopper’, and uses the keyboard in a robust way to recreate the small orchestra Holbrooke requested. In every sense it works extremely well as a Sonata, and was Holbrooke’s riposte to overblown concertos fashionable at the time. Let me make no exaggerated claims, but much on the disc is worth of your attention. Throughout Robert Stevenson has been a caring and excellent pianist; Mark Smith a forthright horn, and young Kerenza Peacock a sweet toned violinist on a loaned Stradivarius. The engineer could have helped the violin’s weight, but the sound overall is good.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group