Gustav Holst – The Planets
Ladies of the London Symphony Chorus
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis, conductor
This live recording of Gustav Holst’s The Planets, featuring the London Symphony Orchestra and Colin Davis, has been made at the Barbican, London, in 2002. Perhaps this is not one of the best recordings ever released of Holst’s popular orchestral suite, but it is more than adequate and overall valuable.
The Planets: Overview
The essence of each Planet is clearly revealed: Mars is martial and bellicose as everyone expects thanks to the blazing, loud sound of the brasses; Venus is delightful and delicate and the blend between strings and woodwinds is quite effective; Mercury is light and sparkling; Jupiter is sumptuous and imposing; Saturn is solemn as it suits to the “Bringer of Old Age”; Uranus is definitely a “Magician”, though maybe its witchcraft lacks some more suggestiveness; finally, Neptune is contemplative and peaceful.
The Planets: Colin Davis’s Conduction
On the whole, Colin Davis’s conduction is not one of those that diverts your attention, although from time to time the impression is that a more profound chiselling of the Planets or of some passages of each movement has been sacrificed to an over-paced rendition. I suppose that the fact that this is a live recording influenced this choice and that a dynamic and quick rendition was preferred to a more relaxed one. The London Symphony Orchestra plays well and sometimes there are some wonderful blends between different groups of instruments, though the recording does not do justice to their sound as it should have (I will discuss it later).
The positive aspects of Davis’s conduction are that it is brisk and resolute. His quickness is particularly effective in Mars, where the fanfare of the war are extremely vivid; in Mercury, with its lightness and brilliance; and in Jupiter, with its high spirits.
However, this quickness is less incisive in other movements and even in some passages of the three Planets I just mentioned. Mars, for example, is less ominous at the beginning than one might have expect. Venus, on the contrary, retains its charm, and Saturn its hieratic step. Instead, some more consideration would not have been detrimental to Uranus, where the spell does not seem complete, and to Neptune to a certain extent, as sometimes the impression is that inspiration is somehow sacrificed.
There is nothing really awkward, however. As I just wrote, this rendition is not a boring one and it is not tasteless. Only, it could be somehow disappointing if you expect it a little more considered, where atmospheres are better highlighted.
The Planets: Recorded Sound
The real problem of these Planets is the recorded sound. Rather than being rich and lustrous, sometimes it is too loud and tinny. The brasses in particular do not benefit from it and their sound is quite annoying. On the other hand, the sound of strings and woodwinds is detailed and quite good. A better balance would have avoided this inconvenience.