52. Bernard Haitink, London Philharmonic Orchestra, 1970

Holst - The Planets (Haitink (London Philharmonic Orchestra, 1970)

I. “Mars, the Bringer of War”

II. “Venus, the Bringer of Peace”

III. “Mercury, the Winged Messenger”

IV. “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity”

V. “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age”

VI. “Uranus, the Magician”

VII. “Neptune, the Mystic”

Amazon.com

It took me ages to find Bernie’s Planets. Where it was available, prices were out of my “I’d prefer to buy a cheap Planets” price range. There was also not a lot written about The Big H’s recording. It’s one of those Planets recordings that seems to have been forgotten about. This page, reviewing Walter Susskind’s Planets, mentioned it in glowing terms, using words such as “greatest”, “somber”, “monolithic”, “deeply committed”, “more”, “the” etc. (It also used the word “cuddly”. He he.) Despite the review containing the word “cuddly”, I’m guessing this is going to be a non-chuckles version of The Planets. Right. Time to listen. Press “play”, and…

“Mars” begins ominously. It’s slow and ominous. Slow and ominous and steady. This is very steady. And ominous. It’s a wee bit tidy though. There’s not much abandon. Although I am enjoying its slow-and-steady-ness, I wouldn’t mind it feeling a little more “roughed up”, if you know what I mean. (You probably don’t, because I’m not even sure I know what I mean.) The first orchestra bang (at 3:44) has a lot of oomph. I’ve just thought of the word to describe this version of “Mars”. It’s pitiless. The march starting at 5:00 just pounds away mercilessly. I don’t know if it’s possible to warm to the heartlessness of this “Mars”, but I’m warming to this “Mars” (or putting it another way: I’m becoming more and more impressed with it as it progresses). At 7:15 it sounds suspiciously like an edit. At 7:55 the orchestral death throes are a little underpowered, but they were OK. “Mars” has just finished, and my instant (i.e., non-considered) reaction is that this is definitely an alternative view of “Mars”, not one that’s usually presented. If you’re looking for a “Mars” without no emotion whatsoever, go straight to this version by Bernard Haiku. It’ll give you a chill. OK. On to “Venus”.

“Venus” is fine. It’s a little chillier than I like it. (I’m beginning to sense how The Big B.H. approaches The Planets interpretatively – without much emotion.) I know this is the London Philharmonic Orchestra and all, but there are some moments of dodgy intonation from the violins, especially when they’re playing high (e.g., from 2:39-2:50) – and no, “playing high” wasn’t a sly accusation. The violins aren’t all that grand playing in the lower registers either (3:13). I must admit that the bit from 3:27-4:19, where solo instruments take their turns to play a variety of melodies, is as good as I’ve heard in any other version. That section is glorious. But just after it, at 4:41, a solo cello plays a sharp note. Bummer. And there’s more out-of-tune-ness at 4:55, 4:59, and 5:01. It’s not major, but it did make me go “Grrr”. The return of the opening horn melody (5:23) is lovely – as is pretty much everything after it until the end of the movement. Very nice. Incredibly Pedantic Comment: I don’t think the celesta player (celestist?) plays his or her last note. He/she may have, but I didn’t hear it.

“Mercury” is played expertly, but I don’t think that’s enough for me to say “I loved it!” 1:37-1:41 and 3:23-3:28: The high violins are at it again with their not-quite-in-tune playing.

“Jupiter” is enjoyable, and has something the first two movements lacked: humanity. (Speaking of humanity: A human being playing a horn fluffs a note at 1:11. It’s in the background and in the left channel, but you can hear it.) The Big Tune (3:07-4:58) is mighty fine, apart from a couple of niggling little horn mistakes at 4:30 and 4:33. There are also weird horn sounds at 5:31 and 5:38, but I don’t want to spend my time telling you about weird horn sounds in Bernie’s “Jupiter” (and you don’t want to spend your time reading about it). The rest of “Jupiter” goes splendidly. Well, there is a trumpet mistake at 6:43, out-of-tune trumpets at 7:37, and a stray horn note at 7:51, but that’s it. Everything else is in this “Jupiter” is fine.

On to “Saturn”. I reckon Bernard HaitOfFashion’s cool interpretative approach will suit “Saturn”. Now that I’m listening to it, I’ll say this: it does. It’s a very restrained performance, and I think it’s appropriate for this movement. However, I don’t think the sharp trumpet note at 2:27 was all that helpful. And that sharp tuba note at 3:10 really didn’t help.

“Uranus” is OK. There are a few moments where various members of the brass section sound a little unsteady, but apart from that this “Uranus” is fine. I don’t think it’s any better or worse than most other “Uranus”es I’ve heard.

“Neptune” is alright. The wind playing at the beginning isn’t all that delicate, and there are some little bizarro sounds in the first minute when things are very quiet (a knock at 0:38 and what sounds like a grunt at 0:46, both in the left channel). But it all settles down, and things get suitably mysterious. Unfortunately, the choir has a bit of trouble from, well, in all of their singing (from 6:26-7:26). I must admit that I think the performance by The John Alldis Choir is probably the worst I’ve heard in any recorded “Neptune”.

So, that was Bernard HaightAndAshbury’s Planets. Not the most monumental version I’ve ever come across, but I’d say it’s worth a spin.

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