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.


Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa