This one was a bit of a mystery to me. The only recording of The Planets I knew of that involved the London Festival Orchestra was conducted by Ross Pople. I thought that Spotify had made a mistake with its tagging, and this “Robert Ashley” character was actually Ross Pople. But the awfully helpful (and incredibly accurate) Discogs told me this Planets was indeed conducted by a Robert Ashley. Discogs lists this Planets as part of a 10-CD set called Spectacular Classics from 2003. (Thanks, Discogs.) Spotify lists it as being released in 2001.
Update: According to the CD I bought, with the mysterious Robert Ashley conducting, this recording of The Planets is from 1996.
These are the covers from the CD I bought:
So it’s from 1996.
Trivia: I just had another look at the back cover and noticed a typo. Oh dear. (Hint: Track 4)
Okey dokey. Now that we have that malarkey sorted out, let’s have a listen…
“Mars” is fine. It’s not terribly powerful, but it’s played pretty well (despite some iffy intonation hither and yon). It’s a thoroughly respectable performance of “Mars”. It won’t make you feel heart palpitations, or give you a sense of unrelenting terror, but it’s fine.
“Venus” is nice, but the solo violin has a few intonation problems from 1:42-1:54. There’s a sharp note by a cello at 3:27, but the solo oboe that appears straight after it (3:30-3:36) is lovely. Swings and roundabouts.
“Mercury” is pleasant, but it’s a tad un-unique. It’s not the last word in individuality, but, like the two movements before it, it’s played well-ish. I have a feeling these Planets are going to end up in the “Enjoyable Enough” pile.
“Jupiter” is not all that great, but it’s not horrible. There’s a slightly cracked horn note at 1:57, but it’s not worth mentioning. (Note to Self: So why mention it, Peter?) As “Jupiter” progresses it’s becoming more enjoyable, despite a bit of sloppy ensemble playing (e.g., 2:11-2:14). The Big Tune (3:01-5:07) starts off waaay too slow for my liking. Maybe Robert “I May Actually Be Ross Pople” Ashley thought it would be noble. I think it’s slow.
I enjoyed “Saturn”. It was played at a tempo I like for this movement. It’s not the most intense version you’ll ever hear, but I thought it was mighty decent.
“Uranus” is more than good, it’s splendid. A tenor tuba has a hard time of it from 1:14-1:17, but that’s extremely minor in the scheme of things.
“Neptune” is splendidly splendid too. There’s a some iffy intonation in a couple of spots (it’s tiny), and it might be a little louder than ideal, but I’m diggin’ this “Neptune”.
Overall, I’d call this a mildly recommendable “Planets” (especially for “Uranus” and “Neptune”). If you see it in your travels, and it’s cheap, you can buy it with the confidence that Peter thought it was OK.
One last thing: Although both Spotify and Discogs reassure me that this performance by the London Festival Orchestral was conducted by “Robert Ashley”, I’m still curious and want to make absolutely sure that it isn’t Ross Pople conducting the London Festival Orchestra. The only way I can find out is to listen the Ross Pople version. I bought the Ross Pople Planets CD a couple of weeks ago, but I haven’t received it yet. (Grrr.) Because I live in Australia, things sometime take a while to arrive in the mailbox. (Things like CDs of Holst’s The Planets.) Ordinarily at times like these I’d simply hop online, find a place that streams the album, and have a listen. Unfortunately, nobody, and I mean nobody, has The Pople Planets available anywhere online. Spotify doesn’t even have it, and I thought they had everything. So I’ll just have to wait for that CD to arrive.
Update: The Poppin’ Pople Planets CD arrived. I compared the two recordings, and they’re different.