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The Planets by Gustav Holst

The Planets

by Gustav Holst (Composer)

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  CLKessler | Sep 25, 2017 |
Gustav Holst (1874–1934)

The Planets, Op. 32

[1] Mars, the Bringer of War [7'21]
[2] Venus, the Bringer of Peace [8'37]
[3] Mercury, the Winged Messenger [4'16]
[4] Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity [7'36]
[5] Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age [9'22]
[6] Uranus, the Magician [6'03]
[7] Neptune, the Mystic [8'47]

Berliner Philharmoniker
Herbert von Karajan

RIAS Kammerchor [7]

Recorded: 1/1981, Philharmonie, Berlin.

Deutsche Grammophon, n.d. 52'02. Karajan Gold. Liner notes by Anthony Burton.


Karajan and The Planets: 1961, VPO, DECCA + 1981, BPO, DG.

I really wouldn't want to have to choose between these two recordings. If I must, I would probably go with the DECCA rendition. I would be sorry to part with the DG one, though. Truth is, the recordings are startlingly different in every possible way, and both have their own pros and cons. This is to be expected considering that they were made with different orchestras, for different labels, and with twenty years in between. Karajan is the only thing they have in common, and no doubt he changed in those two decades, too.

The most obvious difference is, of course, the sound. I don't know about early CD editions or LP pressings, but to my ears the releases in the Karajan Gold and DECCA Originals (plus Strauss’ Don Juan) series sound just fine. The DECCA recording is much more spacious and sumptuous, but there is some loss of detail and occasional roughness. The DG recording sounds flat in comparison, particularly the brass and the strings, but it does benefit from the great clarity of digital recordings, particularly the woodwinds and the percussions. I wish it had been more DECCA-like, but I must say I don't understand people who claim it is among the worst examples of glassy and artificial sound from the early digital era. Certainly, it is not.

Both recordings boast one "planet" which is distinctly better done than in the other. "Jupiter" from 1961 is more dashing and subtly paced than its later counterpart; the lovely Andante maestoso, aka "I Vow to Thee, My Country", is played more slowly and with a more stirring built-up of dynamics, while in the later recording it sounds slightly rushed. On the other hand, the sinister dance of "Uranus" is far more effective in 1981 than it is in 1961. In this special case, the later brass is superior to the earlier.

For the rest, I can't say I have preferences. There are countless differences, and they work both ways. For example, the staggering climax of "Saturn" I prefer in the DG recording, but the ethereal strings in the finale do sound better on DECCA. Likewise, the two massive chords before the climax and in the end of "Mars" are more powerful in 1981, but the climax itself is more sweeping in 1961. On the whole, the early recording is wilder and the later more expansive, but that is surely an oversimplification. They make for a thoroughly fascinating study in contrasts.

There are plenty of recordings of The Planets out there. I like a lot many of them, for example Dutoit, Previn, Solti, Steinberg and the much underrated, unusually slow but extremely powerful, Svetlanov with Philharmonia. (I don't like Ormandy, but Ken Russell's 1983 documentary that uses him as a soundtrack is well-worth tracking down.) All the same, I wouldn't want to be without any of Karajan's interpretations. It almost passes belief that he conducted the work live only twice, on 22 and 30 November 1961, in his 60-odd years at the rostrum, and these were not concert performances but ballet productions in the Wiener Staatsoper. So much for the tiresome cliché that musical artists must grow to know works in concert before they commit them on disc.

Contrary to a popular belief, The Planets is not an orchestral showpiece for a young student from your conducting class to show off. It is one of the few genuine masterpieces to come out of the last century. It lends itself to an infinite variety of interpretations and it enjoys an apparently everlasting (and not to be despised) popularity. By no means limit yourself to Karajan's two recordings of it, but if they happen to come your way, give them an attentive ear. They might be worth your while. ( )
1 vote Waldstein | Sep 30, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Holst, GustavComposerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dutoit, CharlesConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orchestre symphonique de Montrealsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486414027, Paperback)

From the ominous, relentless march of "Mars, Bringer of War" to the ethereal high-string sonorities of "Venus, the Bringer of Peace," this spectacular symphonic suite established Holst's international reputation as one of the most popular and important modern British composers. First performed in 1918, it remains a staple of the orchestral repertoire.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:47 -0400)

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