This is the first of two recordings of Them Thar Planets on the el cheapo Naxos label. The second one was recorded in 2002 by David Lloyd-Jones and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and it had a lot of critics going into Hyperbole Mode, describing both the performance and the sound quality as super duper. One unfortunate byproduct of the “Gosh it’s so good, I can’t believe it’s this good, it’s so good” comments that were heaped upon the Lloyd-Jones recording was that this 1988 recording by Adrian Leaper has been left behind, to be forgotten, with a “Nah, you don’t want the old Naxos recording – you want the NEW Naxos recording.” Well, I’m not going to forget it. I’m going to listen to it.
Right. Now I’m listening to it.
“Mars” is respectable. It’s a little timid, but that’s OK. Now, here’s something I haven’t heard before. I haven’t heard the timpani sound the way it does here in any other recording I’ve come across. It’s a tap-tap-tap sound, not a dm-dm-dm sound. It might be what Our Man Holst asked for in the score. He asked for the timpanists to use “wooden sticks”, and by golly, by gum, I think that’s what the sound is. Wooden sticks. Oops. At 1:36 there’s a minor mishap with the brass. No problem. Let’s keep going. This is fine. I must admit that I’m having no trouble at all listening to this “Mars”. It’s not The Greatest Version Of Mars Ever Recorded, but it’s definitely not “Quick, let’s forget about it because of the new version”.
“Mars” has just finished, and that was totally painless.
“Venus” is fine too.
“Mercury” is fine. (Note to self: Try not to repeat yourself too much, Peter. People aren’t going to be terribly keen on seeing you type the same words over and over again.)
“Jupiter” is nice, despite a few moments of inelegance from the orchestra (e.g., 2:06-2:09) and an impressively off note from (what I think is) an oboe at 2:10.
“Saturn” is respectable – and respectful.
“Uranus” is well played. Mostly. I must warn you there’s some painfully out-of-tune playing from 1:44-1:46. But other than that, this “Uranus” is
And “Neptune” finishes These Planets quite well. I think “Neptune” might be the best performance here (even with the women’s chorus being a little louder than I reckon it should be). I think all of the performances on this disc are of the solid, meat’n’potatoes (or, if you’re vegetarian, potatoes) variety.
The more I listen to this version of The Planets, the more I enjoy it. It’s not great, but I enjoy it more than the shiny new Naxos version. (That one didn’t do much for me at all.) Actually, if you were in a record shop (or browsing online), and you saw this version of The Planets looking at you, and it’s mighty cheap, I’d say “Go right ahead and buy it.”
Despite the nowhere-near-superlative playing and the not-all-that-great production (i.e., A Typical Naxos CD From The 1980s), I heartily recommend this disc to all IPPs*.
I think it does the job Naxos wanted it to do (i.e., offer a cheap ‘n’ cheerful Planets to the public).
[*Impecunious Planets Purchasers.]