Holst: The Planets (CD review)

Also, Asteroids.  Sir Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras.  EMI Classics 0946 3 69690 2 (2-disc set).

Gimmicks, gimmicks, gimmicks.  If you ain't got a gimmick these days, you ain't got a record. I mean, how often have record companies issued Gustav Holst's The Planets?  Maybe 800 times in stereo alone? So, the gimmick here is that EMI not only added Colin Matthews's "Pluto" to the Planets lineup, but they included a second disc called "Asteroids," additional space-related compositions, plus a "Making-of" video enhanced for computers. I wish I could say much of it works.

Sir Simon Rattle had already recorded The Planets digitally for EMI with the Philharmonia Orchestra, so why he thought he needed to do it again is anybody's guess. Certainly, the performance seems not much different than before. It's still a fairly conventional interpretation to my ears, with Matthews's "Pluto" having the unfortunate distinction of not being up to the quality of Holst's work and the celestial Pluto not even being a full-fledged planet anymore.

Then, on a second disc there are four brief, spacey works:  Kaija Saariaho's "Asteroid 4179"; Matthias Pintscher's "Towards Osiris"; Mark-Anthony Turnage's "Ceres"; and Brett Dean's "Komarov's Fall." They last from four-to-seven minutes each, and with the exception of Turnage's piece, which turns somewhat jazzy in the middle, they sound a little like sci-fi movie soundtracks.

Also, with Rattle in charge of one of the most gorgeous-sounding orchestras in the world, it continually mystifies why he or EMI seem to insist upon doing most of his new albums live. I suppose it's a cost-saving move, but still.... This album is described as having been "recorded in concert: March 15-18, 2006, Philhrmonie, Berlin." Unfortunately, the sound is ordinary at best, often clear and realistic in the upper midrange and treble but just as often vague and ineffectual, without much in the way of strong dynamics or deep-bass support. Just listen to Andre Previn's much older EMI recording (or Adrian Boult's EMI recording, for that matter) and check out how much better The Planets can really sound.

JJP

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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.

Mission Statement

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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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa