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.


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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 over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine 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, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa