This was one of the last Planets discs to arrive at the Peter household. I hope it was worth the wait.
Fun fact: The day after the CD arrived in the letterbox, this album showed up on Spotify. Coincidence… ?
… Yep. (I’m not a believer in things such as “fate” and “destiny”, and all those other things that people refuse to believe is pure coincidence.)
Before we get around to listening to this little beastie, I want to mention that this is apparently a live recording. (The CD booklet says “Live Recording The Planets January 25, 1995″.) You don’t get many of them nowadays.
OK. I’ll put on my listening ears, and…
Oh yeah. This is much better than Leapy Adrian’s earlier (1988) effort on Naxos with the CSR Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava). That recording had coupled with perfectly serviceable (but not all that great) sound quality. This one sounds better, and it’s played better. Win-win!
“Mars” starts off very well indeed. There’s a slight mishap with a double-bass forgetting to go up a note at 3:37, but in a flash (at 3:38) going to the right note in the hope that no-one noticed. (Smooth move, double-bass player.) But that’s nothin’. This is a mighty fine “Mars”. Although… I think the last bar of the lead-up to the return of the martial rhythm (4:23-4:28) is a bit too slow – especially the last two notes (4:27-4:28). Boy, am I being picky. Sorry about that. How about I just say “This is a good ‘Mars'” instead of wasting your time pointing out incredibly minor drawbacks?
This is a good “Mars”.
Before we get to “Venus” I’d like to point out the orchestral death throes at the end of “Mars” (6:53 onwards). I think the pauses in between the bursts of noise are great here. To me, they’re judged to perfection.
Note to Other Conductors: That’s how you do pauses at the end of “Mars”.
Now to “Venus”. This starts off reassuringly well played by the solo horn, followed by the flutes and oboes. Very nice. Unfortunately, the ensemble intonation from 0:50-1:03 is slightly off, but things settle down after that, and it’s all quite nice until the dodgy intonation returns at 1:31-1:20. And the solo violin is a little out of tune from 2:06-2:18. Ah well. Regardless of those minor, minor things, this “Venus” is very peaceful. Oh, and there’s a bit of proof that this is a live recording: There are extraneous noises at 2:21 and 5:39, and someone coughs at 6:47.
“Mercury” is splendid. There ain’t nothin’ wrong with it at all. It’s excellent. I had to play it again just to make sure that it actually was excellent, and that I hadn’t missed any easy-to-miss mistakes or shenanigans. Nope. Nothin’. It’s excellent. (Well, the solo violin from 3:31-3:36 is a little sharp, but that’s it.)
“Jupiter” is splendid as well. There’s some out-of-tune horn work in The Big Tune (4:16-4:17), and a trumpet plays a flat note at 6:07, but apart from those three seconds the entire movement is played very well. It’s (and this is going to sound like an ad for wine or cigars) played with refinement and taste. Except for… At 6:22, is that an edit? I know this is claimed to be a live recording, but that last tuba note was cut off and it makes me wonder. (“Ooh, it makes me wonder…“)
And one last thing about this “Jupiter”: From 7:30-7:43, the playing and balance of the wind instruments is superb. Superb!
This is turning out to be a very solid and dependable recording of The Planets. What a difference seven years, a different orchestra, and a different record label can make for The Man They Call Adrian.
“Saturn” may not be The Saturn That Is Spoken Of In Hushed And Reverent Tones (it’s not), but it’s still commendably commendable. Unfortunately, the horns go slightly flat from 5:13-5:15, which is a bit of a pity because it’s during the big build-up. Of all places in “Saturn” where your horns go flat, that’s definitely not where you’d want them to go south, tuning-wise. And the blaring horns playing a chord at 5:51 play said chord out of tune. Also unfortunately (well, for me anyway, maybe not for you), the low organ notes from 7:32 are much quieter than I like. (I like those organ notes to give your subwoofers a workout.) But the ending of “Saturn” is reassuringly calm. (And calmly reassuring.)
No complaints about “Uranus”. It’s simultaneously frisky and lumbering – which is what I think young Gustav That Holst was looking for.
However, “Neptune” has a few moments of intonation woes that I found annoying (e.g., 0:14-0:19, 0:28-0:34, 0:41-0:46). I didn’t want to be annoyed – I wanted to be transported to Neptune. But after the early intonation blahs, it was smooth smailing. Three-quarters of this “Neptune” is mysterious. The first quarter, not so much. I’d call this “Neptune” mysterious-ish.
Overall, I reckon this is a better-than-good Planets. I wouldn’t put it in a Top 10 list of Planets recordings (unless this was one of only 10 Planets available, and then maybe I’d put it at number 7). Considering I only found out about this recording late in The Quest For All Known Planets Recordings, and it took me a while to find the CD, I’m guessing it isn’t well-known. I do think it deserves to be better known than it is at the moment.
So, what kind of Planets is it? It’s the You Can Buy It And Confidently Not Feel Ripped Off Planets.