Wow, this starts off quietly. Hang on, I’ll just turn up the volume and start it again…
That’s better, now I can hear it.
I. “Mars, the Bringer of War”
The start of “Mars” (a.k.a. The Incredibly Quiet Start Of Mars) is not heavy on the rhythm of the piece, but it is enjoyable. Actually, as it goes on, the rhythm is coming out a bit more. I’m enjoying this. It’s not a brutal, sledgehammer-between-the-eyes reading of “Mars”, but it does have some heft. If you’re looking a heavy-duty “Mars”, I’d say look elsewhere. The orchestral splat at 3:14 is nicely under-played. Sometimes, conductors like to get their orchestras to go “bang!” as forcefully as possible here, but not ol’ Wolfy. (Note to Self: His name is Wolfgang Heinzel, Peter. Be a bit more respectful.) I’m diggin’ how Heinzel-and-Gretel is keeping things relatively cool, not bludgeoning the listener (i.e., me). The section after orchestral splat, where the music gets all slow ‘n’ snaky (3:22-4:25), is played with entirely suitable unease. Unfortunately, the moment where the orchestra resumes its march (4:35) is played a little sloppily (the orchestra doesn’t start together). But the march itself is fine. It’s not all that menacing or high-powered, but I’m a-liking it nevertheless. Oops: One of the horns plays a dodgy note at 5:11. That section leading up to the last orchestral splat (6:04-6:23) is pretty underwhelming, but it’s played well enough. Another Oops: The ensemble work from 6:29-6:30 is unhelpfully loose. (It’s not very ensemble-y.) And am I imagining it, but is something out of tune in the left channel from 6:33-6:37? It could be a violin or two. Oh dear: The orchestral playing in the stuttering finale of “Mars” (6:59-7:24) is slack.
All in all, I’d say that was a medium “Mars” – not all that great, but not all that awful either. It started off OK, got better, then got worse.
II. “Venus, the Bringer of Peace”
Grrr. From 0:42-1:13 the orchestra is out of tune. One or more instruments is/are sharp, and it’s annoying me. (I’m not meant to be annoyed during “Venus” – I’m meant to be calm.) Now everything’s sounding out of tune. And it’s being compounded in the moments when the orchestra rises above p in the dynamics, and you can really hear the out-of-tuneness (e.g., 1:25, 1:30-1:35, 1:38-1:41, and especially 1:49). The orchestra’s slightly out of tune in other places later on. (2:51-2:53 made me wince.) However, I’m pleased to say the orchestra is in tune for the rest of the “Venus” (2:54 onwards), and it’s here that I’m finally starting to feel peaceful.
III. “Mercury, the Winged Messenger”
This is better. Not great, but better. The orchestra has a bit of pep in its step as the music flits from instrument to instrument. But that glockenspiel is annoying (0:45-1:02). Unfortunately, “Mercury” gets a little less peppy as it goes on. Parts of it are OK, but overall it’s not terribly mischievous, as I think it should be. Ah well.
IV. “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity”
Hopefully, this will be alright. Press “play”, and…
Phew. The start of this “Jupiter” is fine. There’s some weird buzzing from an instrument in the right channel from 0:42-0:44 (a cello?). The first jolly tune starts off not so great with a tuba that plays its first note sharp (1:05). The tune itself (1:05-1:26) goes well. This “Jupiter” is turning out to be the best of these performances so far. I’m liking it. Oops. I spoke typed too soon. The second, slower, jolly tune (1:43-2:34) isn’t much to write home about. Interpretatively, it’s fairly insipid, but it does gather steam as it progress. 2:18: There’s that buzz again in the right channel. What is it? The big broad tune (3:07-4:48) is nice. And so is the rest of this “Jupiter”. Everything from 4:48 until the end is conducted and played well. I wouldn’t say it’s great, though. I’d say it’s thoroughly respectable.
By the way, this was apparently a live recording. (On the cover it says “live recording”.) It sure doesn’t sound like it. (I can’t hear any kind of audience.)
V. “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age”
Mmm. The start of this is a bit too slow I reckon. I know it’s supposed to be slow (and effortful), but this is too slow for my liking. It’s played well (and in tune – woohoo!), but this slow-poke interpretation is just not doing it for me. 4:59: That really wasn’t a handy time for mistake from a brass instrument. (It’s at the end of the first climax.) 5:15-5:35: The distinct lack of speed here doesn’t help the music at all. And it’s not helping the orchestra, who sound like they’re having a bit trouble staying together. It’s the same from 5:47-6:28. I can hardly hear the organ starting from 7:36. Maybe the conductor (Hi, Wolfgang!) wanted the organ to be integrated into the fabric of the music, and to not stand out. To that I say, “Pshaw!”. More organ please.
VI. “Uranus, the Magician”
Here come the blaring horns…
(I’ll just turn the volume back down, after having it on full blast for the end of “Saturn”.)
Oh, that’s not too bad.
Oh-oh, this starts off slower than I prefer. I hope it picks up.
It’s not picking up.
1:35: The horns go off the rails here. And from 1:53-1:55, things are a bit dodgy in the “being in tune” department. From 1:56-2:00 there’s a long held note on the violins. Unfortunately, it sounds like one of those violins is out of tune.
This “Uranus” is OK. As I’m listening to it, I’m not hearing anything that marks it out as something special. I’m listening to fairly regular “Uranus”.
VII. “Neptune, the Mystic”
This one starts off a bit slow too. I think I might end up calling this The Slow Planets.
0:14-0:22: More out-of-tune playing, this time from the flutes, which is mighty unhelpful for this ultra-mysterious movement. When the instruments aren’t blending, the mystery evaporates.
0:22-0:33: That’s better.
0:33-0:44: And back to the flutes being out of tune. Sigh.
Apart from those two flute-related moments of awkwardness, the rest of “Neptune” is fine – even the women’s chorus (although the ladies have a trouble with intonation here and there).
It’s not the last word in “ethereal”, but this “Neptune” does what does.
OK, so summing up…
I’d place this about two-thirds down the list. It’s well-recorded, but the performances are only OK.