55. Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Philharmonia Orchestra, 1994

Holst - The Planets (Gardiner, Philharmonia Orchestra, 1994)

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Frank Admission Time: I’m a fan of John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Baroque repertoire (love his Rameau), but I have no idea what he’s like in anything else (such as 20th-century music like, oh I don’t know, Gustav Holst’s The Planets). I’m about to find out.

This Planets starts off with a “Mars” that’s admirably slow. I like a “Mars” that’s slow and menacing. Unfortunately, this isn’t menacing. At least it has bags of clarity (i.e., it’s very well recorded). The first big orchestral Bang! in “Mars” (at 3:31) sounds Amazing. (I had to capitalise that “amazing”, because it does sound A-MAZE-ING.) I so want this to be a high-voltage reading of “Mars”, but it’s resolutely low-voltage. Grrr. (It sounds good, though.) Overly Pedantic Note: I think the snare drum hit at the end of the drum roll (6:53) is way too loud. The bit at the end of “Mars”, where the orchestra stutters as if it’s in a death throe (starting from 7:27) just drags. What a disappointing end to what I hoped was going to be A Great Mars Conducted By A Conductor I Like A Lot. Ah well. And now moving on to the rest of these here planets.

“Venus” is very peaceful.

“Mercury” is fairly frisky, with the orchestra scurrying about (albeit in a very civilised manner).

“Jupiter” is fairly ordinary.

Actually, that’s the feeling I’m getting about this Planets the more I listen to it: ordinary. I’m not feeling anything special whilst listening to any of the movements. “But it’s John Eliot Gardiner!” I say to myself. “You like him!” I also say to myself. None of that is doing me any good. I’ve got a case of the “ordinaries”, and it’s not going away. Grrr. I want this to be much, much better.

“Saturn” is OK (i.e., not stupendous).

“Uranus” is OK (i.e., not tremendous).

“Neptune” is OK (i.e., not splendiferous).

It’s all OK.

Did I tell you I really like Gardiner conducting Rameau?

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4 thoughts on “55. Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Philharmonia Orchestra, 1994

  1. John R. Lewis III March 7, 2015 / 9:03 pm

    I, too, enjoyed some of Gardiner’s recordings, particularly his period-influenced Beethoven symphony cycle, but he seems out of his depth with the Planets. My purchase of this was partly due to curiosity, partly because of all the critical acclaim which accompanied its release, but however well-played and recorded it was, it seemed utterly without character. Gardiner just didn’t seem to have any ‘feel’ for piece, and I think you would agree that, where the feeling is there, a really worthwhile rendition is possible, and instrumental inaccuracies can be easily forgiven.

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  2. Rodrigo Lobos August 15, 2016 / 9:46 am

    I’m following your footsteps as I listen Gardiner’s recording and I agree, it is an outstanding recording, the cristal clear sound from the SACD is palpable. Mars, a very human and musical interpretation, lacks the gravitational planetary pull and menace from the god of war. Jupiter far too joyful and extremely light, musically speaking, probably the lightest interpretation I have heard, lacks the planetary scale of other generous interpretations. Venus, Uranus, Mercury and others all very musical and nice.

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  3. wonderboy September 20, 2016 / 5:34 pm

    this is much underrated – a VERY good performance and a wonderful sound !

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    • Peter September 21, 2016 / 9:59 am

      I know a lot of people really dig this version, but for me it sounded like The Planets weren’t in Sir John’s wheelhouse, so to speak. Some conductors have a particular composer’s music in their bones, a real affinity with it, but I never got that sense when listening to this particular recording. The CD does, however, have a great coupling in Grainger’s The Warriors. I reckon the disc is worth buying for that alone.

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