Yep, this is a good’un. “Mars” is fine. The tam-tam (miniature gong) player is impressively late at 1:14. (It made me chuckle.) Nobody seems to have been bothered by that, because the “Mars” Monster Truck keeps on rolling along. I’m enjoying this. The orchestra doesn’t seemed strained at all, I can hear the instruments clearly (even the bass tuba), and Andrew Davis is directing proceedings with an assured hand. It’s all good. Here’s hoping “Venus” is good as well.
Update: It is. And so are “Mercury” and “Jupiter”.
This is a very confident Planets. Case in point: The bit in “Jupiter” leading up to The Big Tune. Here the leading-up-to bit is from 2:53-3:10, and it’s played so much better than it is with a lot of other readings. In plenty of other recordings, not a lot of thought goes into that little bit – probably because the conductor has his or her eyes on The Big Tune, and is thinking more about that than this orchestral appetizer. I’ve said it before (about another recording), but I’ll say it again: It’s the little things. The Big Tune in “Jupiter” (3:10-5:07) is glorious. And the tiny bit of speeding-up that Gustav asks the musicians to do when the Jolly Tune returns (6:16-6:22), Andy Davis and the gang do that. The little things. Oh, and before I leave “Jupiter” I want to make special mention of the tambourine part from 7:06-7:14. Whoever played that tambourine (hi, tambouriner!) did an excellent job (thanks, tambouriner!).
Right, now on to “Saturn”.
I never thought I’d say this, but “Saturn” here is sweet. It’s not arthritic, curmudgeonly, melancholy, despairing, or any of those things. It’s relatively mild-mannered. I’m A-OK with that. It’s just a slightly different interpretation than the kind I’m used to. The last two-and-a-half minutes of this “Saturn” (6:00-8:36) are gorgeous.
“Uranus” is wizzo. The playing is so assured that it’s a joy to listen to. This is fast becoming one of my favourite Planets.
“Neptune” is excellent, and caps off a mighty, mighty decent Planets recording.
High Praise Time: As soon as this recording finished I wanted to play it again.
Another (Bigger) Update:
I want to mention something I forgot to mention when I forgot to mention it. (And it’s worth mentioning.)
A unique aspect of this Toronto/Andy recording is the chorus used at the end of “Neptune”. Instead of the usual yodelling women, Andy Davy decided to use a children’s choir. I would love to know why. Gustav O’Holst specifically states in the listing-the-instruments-section of the score:
“In the 7th Piece only, a Hidden Choir of Female Voices in 6 parts.”
That’s not terribly ambiguous is it?
(Or is it? Mr H doesn’t specify what age those female voices are supposed to be, now does he? And it could be interpreted as “Female Voices coming from children who haven’t gone through puberty so they sort-of sound like women…”)
Thanks to reader Gerry the Gerald (Hi, GerGer!) for reminding me (in the comments section below) that I forgot to mention the “Let’s use kids instead of women!” weirdness of this recording.
Weirdness aside, I still think this is a mighty fine recording of The Planets.