This was by far the most difficult Planets recording to get a hold of. It took more than a year to find it, but found it was. (Phew.) After an extensive search, I had performed an equally extensive giving up, as it was nowhere to be seen. It was eventually found by someone else. (And I think that someone else is now my new best friend.)
You can read about my new best friend’s moment of discovery in the comments to this post.
I’m now very happily in a position to say the following:
Here it is, folks.
Here is the mythical beast that has eluded me ever since I began this here website in the latter months of 2014. (It’s now August 2016.)
This particular recording of Those Planets has been out of print so long that I had hoped against hope that I would ever hear it, thus rendering this website forever incomplete.
But, as mentioned above (and repeated here simply because I’m so thrilled), my new best friend came to the rescue, and I’m now in a position to hear it. And so are you.
Update: By the way, and you’re not going to believe this, but the day my new best friend told me he had found and bought his CD, I had (yet another) look on eBay for it, expecting (yet again) not see it there. I was stunned to see a copy for sale. (A year and a half of looking with nothing to show for it, and two copies appear in different places in the same week!) I snapped it up with lightning speed. (Cue some Gospel singing: “Oh Happy Day… Oh Happy Day…“)
The Time Before I Heard The CD
Before I got around to hearing this recording, I had written about it – or, more specifically, written about the frustration of not finding it.
In the interests of historical historicalness. I’ve kept my text from when I hadn’t heard it. The text is there to remind you (and me) of how elusive this disc was. It’s after the review.
Now that I finally have the Hilary Davan Wetton recording of The Planets, I can press “Play”.
Dare I press “Play”? Yes, I dare.
I. “Mars, The Bringer of War”
0:00-0:12: Oh yeah, this is nice. And by “nice” I mean “very, very enjoyable”.
0:12-ish: Love that gong. Very ominous. I love how it takes ages to die away. This thing’s been going only about 15 seconds and I’m already thinking this is great.
0:18 onwards: Alright, so this “Mars” is probably a bit slower than it’s meant to be, but I’m diggin’ it in a major way.
0:38: The way the instruments are all balanced here makes it sound positively dissonant. I. Am. Loving. This.
1:16-1:17: That’s a magnificently meek little horn, as if it’s scared to play anything with all that menace surrounding it.
1:28: Oh yeah. This is gooooood.
A part of me is saying “This is way too slow, Peter” – but another part of me is saying “Who cares? It’s great.”
1:45-1:46: That’s some insecure playing from the trombones there, but who cares? This is great.
This version of “Mars” isn’t for everyone (some folks might go, “Nope, too slow”), but it certainly is for me. Oh baby.
2:33: The way the violins go quiet for the tenor tuba solo is genius. Thanks, Hilary (aka The Awfully Good Conductor I Haven’t Mentioned Until Now), for telling the players to do that.
The one thing I’m loving about this “Mars” is that I can hear everything. All the instruments are wonderfully identifiable, and I can focus on whatever I want any time I want. Beautiful.
I’m not even halfway through “Mars”, and I’m thinking to myself, “Why is this CD out of print?”
3:30-3:37: The buildup to the first big “Bang!” of “Mars” is fabulous. And when the big “Bang” arrives (at 3:37), it does so after a nervewracking two-second pause. It’s audacious. And the “Bang!” isn’t all that loud or explosive (as it usually is). It’s more a slow-motion splat, like slime oozing out, into the head of the listener. It’s perfectly in keeping with Hilary’s ultra-menacing view of this movement. Incidentally, because I’m a lover of puns, I want to call the conductor “Hilarity”, but there’s nothing hilarious about this interpretation of “Mars”.
3:44-5:04: That’s dangerously slow. But I’m on its wavelength.
5:04-5:11: Man, that’s intense.
6:35: A little mistake from a trumpet. No problem.
The rest of “Mars” (after that non-problematic trumpet fluff) is magnificent. A trumpet comes in a little early at 8:01, but I’m not bothered by it at all. It’s all so slow compared to how the piece is supposed to go (see Roy Goodman and the New Queens Hall Orchestra’s “Mars” to hear it at its written metronome speed).
OK. On to “Venus”. Let’s see what interpretative delights await…
II. “Venus, the Bringer of Peace”
This is lovely. The playing may be a little prosaic compared to other recordings, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it after the “Mars” that came before it.
2:08-2:19: Grrr. The solo violin is out of tune (it’s playing a bit sharp), and bothering me. But at least the rest of the orchestra is playing well.
2:58-3:01: Now the massed violins are playing out of tune. What’s going on here? Everything was great in “Mars”. Why is “Venus” not great? Is this the same orchestra?
3:19-3:40: I’m pleased to report that the solo violin here is not as out of tune as it was earlier. Phew.
4:10: Is that an edit?
4:16-4:18: Why does that part of “Venus” always remind me of the start of “Rock A Bye Baby“? (Note to Self: Because it’s the same tune, you dolt.)
4:26-4:37: Nice solo cello.
5:38-5:44: Wow, that solo cello is way out of tune. And I was enjoying it so much about a minute ago. Ah well.
6:16-6:31: That’s better.
6:55-6:56: This isn’t (i.e., out-of-tune horns).
7:03-7:15: Now the whole orchestra is sounding out of tune. Are my ears playing up?
Overall, I think this is a bit of a hit-and-miss “Venus”.
III. “Mercury, the Winged Messenger”
This is more like it. A splendid “Mercury”. I don’t have to go into pointlessly minute detail (I’d just be praising it continually), but I do want to mention the double bassoon – it sounds excellent (0:50-0:53, and 3:42-3:44).
IV. “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity”
0:05-0:27: Unfortunately, because of the acoustics in the hall, and the horns playing their tunes, the beginning of this movement sounds a bit messy. The hall’s (very noticeable) reverberation is getting in the way of the music, smearing the notes. But concept-wise, this “Jupiter” is fine. And as it goes along, either the hall reverberation is settling down, or I’m getting used to it. Either way, it’s now sounding better.
1:05-1:28: The Main Jolly Tune is played excellently. Nice tempo, nice sound, no mistakes. Can’t ask for more than that.
3:13-4:54: The centrepiece of this movement, the big Stately Tune, is lovely. (See above about “nice tempo…” etc. The same applies here.) At 4:37 I’m pretty sure the timpani came in a fraction early, but that’s neither here nor there. Nope. This is a grand, grand Stately Tune. Oh, and speaking of lovely, the very brief fluttering violins at 4:54 are wonderful.
6:04-6:09: The little accelerando here sounds awkward to me. As far as I know, it’s not meant to be as noticeable as it is here.
6:51-6:59: Good tambourine work. (No, I’m not being sarcastic. That really is good tambourine playing.)
Apart from a few not-worth-mentioning niggles, This is a mighty good “Jupiter”.
V. “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age”
0:00-whenever: The beginning of this is excellent. It’s so excellent that I’m going to stop typing for a while and simply listen to the music.
Aaaaaah. That was magnificent. (Except for the missing organ at the end of the movement. Where is it? It’s meant to appear from 8:03 onwards, but it ain’t there. What happened to it? Couldn’t the orchestra afford one?)
VI. “Uranus, the Magician”
And now for the blaring horns that always, and very rudely, interrupt the feeling of calm I invariably have when “Saturn” finishes.
0:00-0:12: And there they are. Grrr. They’re well played, but… Grrr.
5:04-5:16: Where is that organ?
I’m going to ignore the missing organ and sum up this “Uranus” by saying it’s darn-tootin’ (translation: very good). I like it a lot.
VII. “Neptune, the Mystic”
This is excellent.
3:57-4:14: Hooray! The organ finally made an appearance. So the orchestra could afford one after all. It’s a pity they didn’t use it* in the other places where it was supposed to be.
(*Maybe they did but I couldn’t hear it.)
4:46-5:27: The choir blends beautifully with the orchestra.
5:39: Here’s the choir again, and they’re sounding wonderfully other-worldly (just as Our Man Holst wanted them to).
I’m afraid I’m going to have to temper my enthusiasm for “Neptune” somewhat, because this particular recording ends with what sounds definitely like a fade-out. Not cool, recording team.
Overall, though, this “Neptune” is excellent.
Hang on, I think I’ve already used the word excellent. How about a different word? OK, I’ll call it glorious instead. No, I think I may have used that word already too. Mmm. Alright, it’s splendiferous. Definitely splendiferous.
This was sort of worth the wait. It’s not necessarily the greatest Planets I’ve ever heard, but I think it’s certainly worth hearing. However, it’s a frustratingly uneven recording. “Mars”, “Mercury”, “Saturn”, and bits of “Neptune” are wonderfully excellent, but the other movements are just “eh”.
Nevertheless, because of those three great movements, this is one Planets recording I’m more than happy to revisit from time to time. Actually, I think I will.
And off we go one more time…
Before I Heard The CD (Redux)
[Sometime in 2014]
This is the only Planets I wasn’t able to listen to. I can’t find it anywhere.
Lest you think Wikipedia is having a lend of me (“Ha ha! We’ll show Peter! There really isn’t a Planets recording by Hilary Davan Wetton! He won’t be able to finish his list because he thinks there’s one more recording to hear. Ha ha!”), this recording apparently does exist. It’s listed in the May-June 1990 edition of the American Record Guide.
It’s also listed in the 1990 edition of The Penguin Guide to Classical Music (on page 505). The Guide ranks 17 Planets recordings, and the elusive Hilary Davan Wetton is number two (right after the one by Charles Dutoit and his Montréallers).
Here’s the Penguin review:
Hilary Davan Wetton’s set of Planets is among the most successful of recent records. It has a superb digital recording, made in All Saints’, Tooting, which creates a gripping sense of spectacle in Mars, given with a biting attack and forceful rhythms. Pacing is measured, but the wild bursts from the tam-tam add to the ferocity which is hammered home in the powerful final chords. After a delicately translucent Venus, combining serenity with restrained ardour, the delicacy of Mercury lacks the sharpest definition. But the resonance adds to the impact of Jupiter with its ebullient horns, although here the big tune could be more expansive. With potent, measured melancholy, Saturn moves to a forceful climax, dominated by the timpani; then Uranus, with its ringing brass chords and rollicking horns, makes a dramatic contrast, while Neptune‘s ethereal chorus returns us to a silent infinity.
Number two in the Penguin Guide. I really, really want to hear this recording.
I’ve looked for it pretty much everywhere I can think of, but it’s proven to be unfindable. None of the Amazons (.com, .co.uk, .de, .jp etc.) have it, and eBay – the place that has everything – doesn’t even have it. Unfortunately it hasn’t found its way onto Spotify. (That was a long-shot.)
According to Musicbrainz, Hilary Davan Wetton’s Planets was reissued on CD in 2011 as a “Promotional CD with Classic FM Magazine, Issue 198 (May 2011)”. But that’s not available anywhere either.
I’m just about all out of options this recording. The only other thing I can think of to do is to contact the man himself, Hilary Davan Wetton. In fact, I think I will. Now, I wonder if he has an email address…
Nope. No email address. Grrr.
If anyone reading the above paragraphs has this disc, please let me know. I’m only an email away. And I’m desperate. I want to finish this list!
Update: Thanks to the detective work of a member of the GMG Classical Music Forum who shall not remain nameless (Hi, Neal!), I now have an email address for Hilary. (Thanks, Neal!) Time to pester a conductor…