Walter Susskind, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Mobile Fidelity UDSACD 4005.
Mobile Fidelity began life as a producer of half-speed remastered vinyl discs. When CD’s came along, they kept pace in the audiophile arena by transferring music to gold discs. These days, having largely moved away from gold discs and on to Super Audio CDs, they have found some good source material in the performances of Walter Susskind, such as this one where he conducts Gustav Holst’s The Planets with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
The first and only time other time I heard this recording was almost thirty years ago when it first appeared on a Vox/Turnabout LP in the mid Seventies. It was during the quadraphonic era, and Vox had intended for listeners to play it back in four channels. But I heard it at that time in ordinary two-channel stereo where the sound appeared a mite blurry and noisy to me. Not being too impressed by the sonics at that time, I quickly forgot about the performance. Unlike before, however, I was able to hear it in cleaner, clearer stereo on this Mobile Fidelity SACD, and I regret not having given the performance more credit back then.
Mo-Fi is producing hybrid two-channel/multi-channel discs, so a person can listen to The Planets with or without an SACD player or rear channels. I listened in two-channel stereo through a Sony SACD player, where the sound now appeared better focused, and Susskind’s interpretation of this colorfully descriptive score thoroughly delighted me.
“Mars” begins things with a zesty, saucy bravado. I’ve read that Holst wanted this “Bringer of War” to ridicule the stupidity of war, and surely Susskind’s zippy rendition conveys this thought. Nevertheless, it’s the slower movements that most impressed me, “Venus” and “Saturn” and, of course, the ethereal “Neptune,” with their grace and refinement. Still, it’s “Uranus” that always seems to me the centerpiece of the work, the movement that combines the strongest tensions, the biggest outbursts of emotion, and the softest moments of repose. Susskind handles it superbly, the pacing immaculate. This is quite a nice reading, actually.
The sound, as I’ve said, is a marked improvement over the old vinyl. But one must play it somewhat loudly to enjoy it to the full, in all its spacious grandeur. At a soft or even moderate playback level, there seems to be a degree of cloudiness to the proceedings. Yet at volume, the sound is reasonably firm and well delineated. On the minus side, there is a minor feeling of compartmentalization about it, an absence of ultimate depth, some minor softness about the dynamics, and a lack of truly deep bass, all of which could intrude upon one’s complete surrender to a willing suspension of disbelief. Be that as it may, I’m sure it sounds realistic enough, overall, to please most folks, probably close to the original master tape. It’s an enjoyable disc, and I’m nitpicking.
The only flaw is that since my writing this review, Mo-Fi seems to have discontinued the disc. Alas, if you’re interested in it, you may have to do a search.
To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here: