This is another one of those “never heard of ’em” recordings of Those Planets. Even if the artists are completely fictitious (as they were with this Planets recording), I’ll cheerfully listen to the contents of any disc that says “Holst The Planets” on the front.
“Mars” has begun, and it had me tapping my toes in no time. I’m only 40 seconds into it, but I’m definitely into it, if you know what I mean. The sound quality’s not that great, but it’s perfectly serviceable. (It lets me hear the music, and that’s what matters.) 1:28 doesn’t contain the most confident trumpet playing I’ve ever heard, but it’s fine. Actually, the whole orchestra doesn’t sound all that confident. They sound ever-so-slightly tentative, but they also sound like they’re giving it a go. (The more Planets I hear, the more I think this must be a hard piece of music to play.) Someone makes a little mistake at 1:51 (in the left channel). It’s 2:03, and now we’re at the chugging part of “Mars” (chug-chug-chug-chug-chug). I’m enjoying it. 2:59: The first bang!, and it’s a little underpowered, But I’m more than fine with it. I have a feeling I may be making allowances for the bargain-basement nature of this CD (it was $4 on eBay), but I hope not. I try to be as unbiased as I can when listening to any Planets recording. It’s now 4:07, and the main march has returned. It’s marching along quite well – and I’m tapping my toes again. At 5:46 there’s a tiny, tiny mistake from a (possibly stringed) instrument in the right channel, but overall this “Mars” is going very well. Update: It’s now finished. This “Mars” went very well.
“Venus” is fine. I’m now getting used to the not-so-great sound quality, and think it actually suits this “Venus”. I’m really warming to this CD. This is a fine, fine “Venus”. I’m looking forward to hearing the rest of these Planets. But quickly back to “Venus”. 2:53-3:04: That’s some lovely phrasing from the solo oboe. There are a few moments of small intonation problems with the strings (e.g., 3:03) but you know what? I don’t care. They don’t matter to me at the moment because: a) they’re insignificant; and b) I’m thoroughly enjoying this “Venus”. 4:05-4:10: Hooray! The cellos are in tune! (You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve heard that little section played with not-great intonation from the cellos.) And all the solo instruments are in tune as well when they play their little bits. (They sure aren’t terribly in tune on a lot of other recordings.) All of their moments in the spotlight are played very well – especially the cello from 5:44-5:54 (and I’m not even bothered by the boxy sound of that cello). I’m enjoying this an awful lot.
Two down, five to go.
Fun Fact: As I was listening to “Mercury” I did so without jotting down any notes, and kept my eyeballs busy by reading along with the score, marvelling at everything I was hearing and seeing. When it finished, I said this out loud: “Brilliant”.
Right. Now for “Jupiter”. This starts off so well. And continues that way. I’m starting to form the opinion that this is a very good Planets. The first Jolly Tune (0:56-1:16) is a ripper. It’s played with so much brio that I’m thinking “You now, I’m preferring this to some of those big-name recordings”. I’m loving it. The solo trumpet’s phrasing from 1:54-1:58 is a little iffy, but don’t you worry about that. This is a splendid “Jupiter”. Just listen to those lower strings in the quiet bit before The Big Tune (2:34-2:50), bubbling away under the other instruments. Excellent. And now for The Big Tune. This is played fairly briskly. It’s not syrupy at all, or blubberingly sentimental. And I think it’s fab. The quiet bit after after The Big Tune (4:22-4:41) is excellent., with its marvellous little twittering violins in the left channel. I tell ya, even the quiet bits in between the main tunes are splendid. This is a grand, grand “Jupiter”. (Although I must mention the high violins at 4:50. They start their long note slightly flat, but they straighten themselves out in no time.) The repeat of The Jolly Tune (5:19-5:38) is excellent. It’s just occurred to me that the possible jitteriness the orchestra may have felt at the start of this recording (see above regarding “Mars”) has completely disappeared. (Actually, it disappeared as soon as “Venus” began.) This is a very confident-sounding orchestra – except for that tiny cracked note from a trumpet at 6:38.
“Saturn” continues the sterling work this orchestra and conductor have produced on the (now to officially be known as) “I can’t believe I paid $4 for this” recording. 4:02: That might be an out-of-tune harp. (The notes are really low, but it still sounds out of tune.) Out-of-tune harps notwithstanding, I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying this “Saturn”. The build-up (3:58-4:59) is magnificent. And the second, shorter build-up (5:03-5:13) is almost as magnificent. I absolutely adore the bit after it (5:13-6:08). And then comes the Calm Acceptance Of Mortality bit that ends “Saturn” (6:08 onwards). Here, it’s glorious. I’m going to stop typing now and just let it wash over me. Aaaaahhh…
Okey dokey. Now for the brass fanfare that I always think is too loud coming straight after “Saturn”. That was manageable. (I did turn the volume down, so I could avoid being annoyed by that too-loud brass fanfare.) The rolling thunder that is the timpani from 2:16-2:31 is mighty good. Come to think of it, the entire orchestra is excellent for whole movement. This is a tremendous “Uranus”.
Considering this is a bargain-basement, no-name label, “never heard of ’em” Planets recording, I think this is much better than anyone would imagine it to be. The album cover doesn’t help promote itself as a Planets worth buying. The artwork doesn’t scream “High Quality Product!” to me.
“Neptune” is magical. I can’t add anything to that previous sentence. I’m listening to “Neptune”, and all I can think of to say is that it’s… well, it’s magical. It caps off an outstanding Planets.
Peter Sez: If you find it, and it’s cheap, buy it.
I can’t believe I paid $4 for this.
Coda / Addendum / Weirdness
The fabulous detective work of a couple of commenters (Hi, Thomas and Gerald!) has discovered that this “Hymisher Greenburg” recording is a fake. I mean, the recording is real, but the name “Hymisher Greenburg” is fake. It’s actually Alfred Scholz, a chap who records classical music with various orchestras and conductors, and has the recordings distributed on super-cheap record labels. Scholz then uses a variety of made-up names (such as Hymisher Greenburg). The aforementioned detective work (thanks, guys!) has found that this recording is also:
Who’d-a thunk it?