The shortest thing I can say about this Planets is this: “It’s alive! It’s alive!” This one will wake you up. It’s a bracing reading that’ll have you thinking someone threw a glass of cold water in your face. I sort of enjoyed this one. I say “sort of” because the recording contains quite a bit of insecure playing from the orchestra, plus there’s dodgy intonation in plenty of places, which all got on my goat (well, it would have, if I had a goat).
Example of poor intonation: try “Venus” from 4:59-5:12. The solo cello has a hard time staying in tune, and when the orchestra comes in at 5:09 the result is not what I’d call euphonious.
Oh, and Goodman’s “I’ll make a lively version of The Planets!” interpretation doesn’t help “Saturn” at all. “Saturn” doesn’t sound old in the slightest here. And speaking of “Saturn”, the low organ notes in the last minute-and-a-half are way, way down in the mix. (I had to crank the volume right up to hear ’em.) That’s not how I like to hear the organ at the end of “Saturn”.
By the way, when the orchestra came to a stop during “Uranus” (at 3:56), it sounded to me like someone strangled the organ. It made me laugh out loud. I don’t think I was supposed to do that there.
One more thing: Goodman’s “Pluto” isn’t very mysterious. It’s alive!
Major Review Overhaul:
A fair while after listening to Roy’s Planets I read an essay called “An Astronomer’s Guide to Holst’s The Planets” by James Reid. (I can’t get enough of this Planets stuff.)
In the essay, James (Hi, James!) said this:
“The 1996 recording conducted by Roy Goodman is a special case. Goodman set out to emulate the composer’s 1926 recording, including the tempos, and his orchestra uses museum instruments or replicas of the type of instruments used around the time of Holst’s recording. We are unlikely to ever get much closer to Holst’s own intentions and interpretation than Goodman’s performance. For anyone interested in this music, Goodman’s is a must-hear recording. I must stress that most other conductors get many if not most of The Planets wrong. Buyer beware. The vast majority of the dozens of other recordings of “The Planets” are generally too slow.”
I didn’t know any of that. I just listened to The Roy Boy’s version as another version of The Planets. So I went back and listened to R.G.’s version of T.P. again, this time with fresh ears and a new perspective (i.e., the perspective James put in my head). Here we go again…
“Mars” is bracing. The speed takes away the “menacing” aspect of the music, but adds something else. (See above about cold water being splashed in the face.) It’s different. I must admit that I found it much more enjoyable in subsequent listens. After the initial “What’s going on here?”, and then reading the essay that explained things my obtuseness didn’t grasp on first hearing, I now know where Royal Roy and His Merry Band Of Funsters are coming from.
“Venus” still has intonation problems, but they’re not major.
Pointless Observation: There’s a lot of clarity to this (supposedly authentic recreation of) The Planets. I’d call it The Clear-Eyed Planets.
“Mercury” benefits most from this clarity. It’s fabulous. (It’s so clear that even when the orchestra is busy you can hear the strings go flat at 1:29.)
“Jupiter” swings, baby. (Some members of the brass section trip over their tongues from 5:06-5:07, but it happens so quickly you hardly notice it.)
I enjoyed “Saturn” much more this time around, along with the rest of the movements.
I’m enjoying The Good Man’s version of Them Planets more and more with each hearing. Because of my repeated re-listening, I’ve bumped The Royster’s Planets up from its original position in the list (37, when I had heard it only once) to somewhere in the top 10. (It took a bit of juggling, but I finally settled on number 6, for reasons that become obvious when you see what number 5 is.)
Oh, the arbitrary nature of lists!