Before I get to the review, I want to mention that I really wanted to call Mr. Davis “Surly Sir Andrew”. Unfortunately, that pun doesn’t work, because Andrew is one of the jolliest chaps you’ll ever meet. Here’s Andy not being surly at all:
OK. Now to the review…
This “Mars” is good, and by “good” I mean gooooood. It ticks all my “Mars” boxes. That cymbal/gong/thing in the first orchestral swell (1:14-1:18) is fabulous. It’s loud and right in your face. (Well, “in your ears” to be more precise.) Now, it’s been a while since I heard Andrew Davis’s previous two recordings of The Planets, but I’m definitely getting the feeling that this “Mars” is by far the best one Andrew Davis has recorded. The snare drum at 2:08 is nice and deep. And the solo brass instruments from 2:12-2:26 all sound splendid. As does the snare drum again from 2:45-3:03. Actually, everything sounds splendid. I’m thoroughly enjoying this “Mars”. The big orchestral kablammo at 3:08 is excellent. And the slow, menacing stuff after it (3:16-4:15) is even more excellent. It’s chilling. The final march (4:15-5:49) is magnificent. And from 6:34-6:49, those massed wind instruments which lead up to the orchestral death throes are stupendously good. And the orchestral death throes (6:49-7:02) are slightly monumental, courtesy of the large hall acoustic (the reverberation in the recording really lets you know this was recorded in a large hall). And… This is a tremendous “Mars”.
If the rest of this Planets recording is anywhere near as good as “Mars”, it’s seriously going to be a top 10 contender.
“Venus” is serene. The recording quality helps a lot here, because everything sounds bathed in gorgeousness. The solo violin from 1:59-2:10 is a little quiet for me (it sounds more like a part of the orchestra rather than the solo instrument Holst asked for), but that’s neither here nor there. That solo oboe from 3:31-3:39 (and then again from 3:50-3:57) is lovely. From 5:17-5:29 the solo cello’s intonation is a little iffy with a couple of notes, but I’m being pointlessly pedantic. You can hardly notice it. (Note to Self: Well, don’t mention it then, you idiot.) Apart from the aforementioned not-worth-mentioning solo cello iffy-ness, I’d like to say the following loud and clear: This is one mighty fine “Venus”. Yep, Top 10 contender.
And this is a mighty fine “Mercury”. It’s not the friskiest “Mercury” you’ll ever hear, but the way it’s played here sounds ideal after “Venus”. In other words, this “Mercury” follows that “Venus” perfectly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m not going to bother typing anything more about this “Mercury”, I’m going to just sit back and listen to it.
“Jupiter” is very pleasant. All the elements that make up “Jupiter” (the introduction, the first Jolly Tune, the second Jolly Tune, and The Big Tune) go together very well, and it makes for an exceedingly enjoyable listen. I can’t really add that much to the previous sentence (which now looks like it didn’t need to be typed, considering the first sentence of this paragraph said exactly the same thing, and in only four words.)
Now that I’m sort of at the halfway mark in this Planets recording (in a work that has seven movements, where exactly is the halfway mark?), I can say that I’m enjoying this Planets recording a lot. Andy O’Davis has a specific view of the work that isn’t high-voltage, or risky, or anything else that might catch the ear of a Planets buff looking for something new or groundbreaking. What I’m liking about this recording (so far) is that it has an overall feel, with all the movements sounding of a piece, as opposed to a piece of music where one movement stands out above the others. Thanks, Andrew, for treating The Planets as an orchestral suite, not seven separate movements.
Back to “Jupiter”:
One of the tailpieces of “Jupiter” (7:45-8:06) is splendid. All those flutes fluttering away sound positively nautical to me, as if we’re on the high seas. (Now I’m imagining I’m watching a pirate movie, where we see a huge sailing ship in the middle of the ocean on a gloriously sunny day, with the breeze filling the sails, pushing the ship onward through the waves, and the captain is standing on the deck with one hand over his brow as he surveys the horizon.) That nautical feeling I’m getting here is exactly the same feeling I have every time I hear the “Daybreak” sequence in Maurice Ravel‘s Daphnis et Chloé.
Ravel: Daphnis et Chloé – “Daybreak”
Ah, the smell of the sea…
Where was I? Oh yeah, Andrew Davis’s 2010 recording of The Planets. (Focus, Peter, focus.)
Back to The Planets…
Oh-oh. The bit after the bit in “Jupiter” that reminded of Daphnis et Chloé reminds me of the theme to the original Star Trek TV series. In “Jupiter” it’s the bit from 8:06-8:19. Prepare yourself for another mild diversion…
Mild Diversion 2:
Star Trek TV Theme Tune (1966)
Back to The Planets again…
Now it’s time for “Saturn”, and I hope it doesn’t remind me of anything.
“Saturn” is excellent. And it doesn’t remind me of anything. (Phew.) This isn’t a stupendous interpretation or anything. It’s nothing that’ll have you reaching for your thesaurus as you listen to it, but it’s nice ‘n’ solid. And it fits in with the rest of Andy the D’s overall concept of these Planets, which is, from what I’ve heard so far, ever-so-slightly laidback. It’s a more-relaxed-than-usual Planets.
Hooray! A “Uranus” that doesn’t start too loudly. This is a jaunty little “Uranus”, enjoyably in keeping with the rest of these ol’ Planets. And the quiet bit between the two orchestral climaxes that I rarely hear (4:22-4:58) was audible this time. Hooray! This is a smoothly performed “Uranus”, one that doesn’t rattle any cages – and I’m fine with that.
It might be around about now that you’re thinking to yourself, “I think Peter could be hinting that this recording of The Planets is a little low voltage.” You’re right. It is. But I’m enjoying it anyway.
“Neptune” isn’t all that ethereal, but it is very nice. From 0:47-0:55 the flutes aren’t entirely in tune (especially the last chord), but it’s OK (i.e., it’s not
EarthNeptune-shattering). Slight Weirdness: At 6:01 it sounds as if the right channel drops out before coming back in again at 6:05. The right channel doesn’t drop out – it’s just that there’s a lot less happening in the right channel at that moment, while in the left channel there’s a celesta playing a lot of notes and sounding louder than everything else. This goes on until the rest of the orchestra starts up again, filling the right (and left) channel with music, and the movement goes on its merry way. On headphones, that four seconds of “Hi, I’m the celesta, and this is all you’re going to notice for four seconds” was a bit disconcerting. But apart from that, the choir’s good, and the movement fades quite nicely.
I’m glad Andrew the Davis recorded The Planets a third time. I think it’s much better than his second recording (with the BBC Symphony Orchestra in 1994), but not as good as his first recording (with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1986). I’d say this third one is in the middle of those two.
Now that I’m looking at what I just typed in the previous paragraph, and what it’s reminding me of, I’ll call this third effort by Andrew Davis the “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” Planets.