Holst: The Planets; Britten: Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra (CD Review)

Paavo Jarvi, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. Telarc CD-80743.

A lot of Holst's music seems raucous to me, but his masterpiece, The Planets, remains one of the mainstays of the classical catalogue for good reason. These little tone poems, based on both the planetary bodies and the Greek gods, show infinite variety and imagination. With endless opportunities for a bravura performance and showcase sound, it's no wonder so many conductors and record companies choose to put it on disc.

While Paavo Jarvi's reading of The Planets is perhaps not in the same league as Adrian Boult's performance (EMI) interpretively or Andre Previn's recording (EMI) sonically, it's serviceable and has the advantage of ultrasmooth sonics and the coupling of Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. One could do worse.

Jarvi starts out well with "Mars, the Bringer of War," taking its somewhat goofy march at a fairly healthy clip, yet keeping in mind the martial energy it must convey. Jarvi builds up a good head of steam that should satisfy most listeners. The calm of "Venus, the Bringer of Peace" makes an apt contrast, and Jarvi manages the transition nicely. "Mercury, the Winged Messenger" and "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" could have used a touch more humor, but they're OK. "Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age" has always struck me as being the downer in the set, and nothing Jarvi does or doesn't do can change that. "Uranus, the Magician" is without a doubt the real barnburner among the segments of The Planets, and for the longest time I've used Previn's recording (EMI-Toshiba) as a demo piece. Unfortunately, Jarvi tends to rush the movement, substituting speed for excitement or intrigue. "Neptune, the Mystic" concludes on an appropriately tranquil note, disappearing quietly into the ether as it should.

Benjamin Britten wrote his Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra for a 1946 educational film that illustrated the sounds of various instruments in a symphony orchestra. Although Britten's own Decca recording has always been a personal favorite, Jarvi's makes a fine second choice. The conductor gives every instrument its proper due as well as making the Henry Purcell music on which it's based sound fresh and new.

As to the sonics, Telarc recorded the Holst in 2008 and the Britten in 2006, using essentially the same recording equipment, the same recording venue, and the same recording engineer, Michael Bishop. Yet they sound different. The Holst needs more bottom-end oomph, a more prominent bass than it gets here. The Britten, however, does have the needed bass; in fact, it reminds one of the kind of bass punch for which Telarc has always been famous. Both recordings maintain Telarc's well-known fullness and smoothness, although the Holst tends to get a little more congested than the Britten in its loudest passages. One can notice this most obviously in the first movement of the Holst. Otherwise, the sound of both works is quite easy on the ear, if a little less transparent than it could be.



  1. "Mars, the Bringer of War," its somewhat goofy thought though, i love the way of the post, i never thought in this way

  2. they are blessed by the sun god of the Greek , as they say!

    they play it very subtle,

  3. Please may I ask a question about this Järvi Planets? I would like to know if the booklet tells us the recording date of the pieces. I am wondering if the Young Person's Guide was recorded separately. I was surprised that Telarc coupled the Planets to the Britten work. I had seen that Järvi and Cincinnati did this for a disc of Elgar's Enigma. So I was wondering if Telarc recycled the same recording for this release.


John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa