Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) is, of course, best known for The Planets, but I continue to discover other compositions by Holst which are truly remarkable and unjustifiably neglected.

I listened to an out-of-print compact disc this evening that features some Holst rarities: Hymn to Dionysus, Choral Hymns of the Rig Veda, and Two Eastern Pictures. Fortunately, there are still used copies available of this 1985 UK release, so I was able to purchase the disc: Unicorn Digital DKP(CD) 9046. These performances are by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal College of Music Chamber Choir, conducted by Sir David Willcocks (1919-2015), and the legendary harpist Osian Ellis (1928-). What a gem of a recording this is! Seek it out!

The standout work on this disc is a (nearly) complete recording of the Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, written in four groups between 1908 and 1912. The Rig Veda is the oldest scripture of the Hindu religion. Not satisfied with existing English translations, Holst learned Sanskrit so that he could provide his own translation.

Choral Hymns from the Rig Veda, op. 26

First Group, for chorus and orchestra (H. 96)
   I.   Battle Hymn
   II.  To the Unknown God
   III. The Funeral Hymn [not included in this recording]

Second Group, for women's chorus and orchestra (H. 98)
   I.   To Varuna (God of the Waters)
   II.  To Agni (God of Fire)
   III. Funeral Chant

Third Group, for women's chorus and harp (H. 99)
   I.   Hymn to the Dawn
   II.  Hymn to the Waters
   III. Hymn to Vena (Sun rising through the mist)
   IV.  Hymn of the Travellers

Fourth Group, for men's chorus and orchestra (H. 100)
   I.   Hymn to Agni [not included in this recording]
   II.  Hymn to Soma (the juice of a herb)
   III. Hymn to Manas (the spirit of a dying man)
   IV.  Hymn to Indra [not included in this recording]

I also very much enjoyed the final work on this recording, Two Eastern Pictures, written in 1911.

Two Eastern Pictures, for women’s voices and harp (H. 112)

I.  Spring
II. Summer

I certainly hope that this fine recording will be reissued soon, and that live performances of these works are in the offing.

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