32. Sir Adrian Boult, New Philharmonia Orchestra, 1967

Holst - The Planets (Boult, New Philharmonia Orchestra, 1967)

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This is Sir Adrian Boult’s fourth recording of El Planetos. He recorded it five times. (What a Planets hog.) I’ve only heard three of them (so far), and chronologically, as well as interpretatively, this one is in the middle. The earliest one (1954 and mono) is a barnburner/ripsnorter/slugwalloper. (It has “oomph”, in other words.) The last one (1978) is much more mellow. This 1967 reading sits between the two.

“Mars” is fine here. It’s not terribly scary, threatening, driven, propulsive, or any other word you want to use to describe “Mars”, but it’s pretty good. There’s an impressive trumpet mistake at 1:22, but that’s more than made up for by the huge orchestral boom at 3:09. That’s enough of “Mars”.

“Venus” is beautiful. I think it’s much better than “Mars”, despite the slightly sloppy violins from 2:40-3:00.

“Mercury” is fine. I can’t hear anything extra special about it, so I’ll just say it’s fine.

But “Jupiter”, on the other hand, is grand. The Big Tune (3:07-4:58) is glorious. And there’s a bonus towards the end. The brass section goes splendidly off the rails from 6:43-6:45. It sounds like they’d all been in the pub before the recording session. Even with the inclusion of the possibly inebriated brass section, this “Jupiter” is excellent.

“Saturn” is just as good – if not better. If you’ve always believed “Jupiter” to be the emotional heart of The Planets, this “Saturn” may change your mind.

“Uranus” is jocular, but not terribly mischievous (it does, however, have some amazing wind playing at 2:40-2:44 and 3:32-3:36). And someone plays a wrong note at 4:03, but that’s neither here nor there (or anywhere else for that matter).

“Neptune” is thoroughly marvellous, but it’s not quite like most other “Neptune”s I’m used to hearing. In this one, everything is clear. In other recordings the aim is usually to make things as mysterious as possible, to cloak the music in a sonic veil, and to have people react with “Ooh, isn’t it mysterious!”. But not here. And I’m pleased to say this clarity doesn’t make the music any less wonderful. It just makes it a slightly different listening experience. And I loved it.

Actually, the more I listen to Ado’s 1967 Planets, the more I’m inclined to agree with critics who say that this is The Boultmeister’s best Planets. But I still think his 1954 recording is a firecracker of a reading.

Before I finish typing, I want to mention the recording quality. It’s an old recording (and it shows), but I really like the hall acoustic. Whoever engineered this did a very good job. Thank you, 1967 engineer.

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