7. Andrew Litton, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, 1997

Holst - The Planets (Litton, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, 1997)

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“Mars” is fine. It’s a slightly-faster-than-the-usual-tempo version, and I like it. I’m thoroughly enjoying the enthusiasm of the timpanists. This isn’t a “folly of war” or an “oh the humanity” version of “Mars”. No sir/ma’am. This is a straight-up piece-of-good-music version. And I’ll try not to inundate you with more hyphens.

“Venus” is splendid. In the section featuring the solo violin (2:59-3:22), there are some little pauses that I like. And…

Sorry about getting ahead of you here, but I have to confess that I’ve just listened to the whole thing. The reason for not mentioning specific movements will be become clear in the next paragraph.

I enjoyed this recording in a way that I haven’t with most of other versions I’ve heard. With these Planets, I just sat back and listened to the recording, and didn’t feel the need to scribble notes whilst doing so. I felt totally confident with Andy Litton and the gang, knowing they were going to take me through all seven movements without a worry that someone might slip up, or that something might be “off”. None of that happened. The interpretation, performances, and recording were all reassuringly solid.

I will mention one thing though. In “Jupiter”, at 3:39, in the middle of the Big Tune, Andrew gets the orchestra to drop the dynamic level for the next long phrase, and then later on brings the dynamic level back up to what it was earlier (at 4:04). It’s a masterstroke. It almost had me in tears.

This is a very musical Planets. It’s not one that is impressionistic, or the kind that paints astrological soundscapes in the canyons of your mind, or anything like that. It just gives you the music, pure and simple.

Update: On subsequent (i.e., two more) listens, I’ve become alarmingly fond of this recording. (I’m at the stage where I want to play this loudly to someone, and while they’re listening to it I’ll shout in their ear, “This is great!”).

I now want to put this much, much higher up the list than where it currently sits. The only trouble is that it’s going to mess up the list in a big way. I’ll have to think about this…

Sorted.

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7 thoughts on “7. Andrew Litton, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, 1997

  1. John R. Lewis III March 15, 2015 / 2:34 pm

    Got a copy of this on the strength of your review and the fact that it’s a Delos recording (I never heard one of their orchestral recordings that was less than excellent). This one jumped into my Top Ten on the first audition. The orchestra gets a little out-of-sync in the last few seconds of Jupiter, but that’s nothing to how right they get the rest of it. In terms of tempi and dynamic flexibility, this is the most thoughtfully nuanced recording of the Planets that I’ve ever heard.

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    • Peter March 15, 2015 / 6:24 pm

      The more I listen to this (and I’ve heard it plenty more times), the more I marvel at how assured it all is. This is one those “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” recordings, where you can tell the conductor has conceived of The Planets as one big thing, not just seven good pieces of music. I didn’t hear that approach very often, but I when I did (as with Mark Elder’s, and Sir Neville Marriner’s) I could see the overall picture the conductor had of the entire work. I loved how the conductor made the effort to look at The Planets as something more than an orchestral showpiece.

      Thanks to you, John, I’m now in the mood to listen to the Litton Planets again.

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  2. wonderboy September 20, 2016 / 5:05 pm

    i don’t like this version, because the sound is not good (something dull muffled). also the performance is idiosyncratic, too bad, i like Litton, but this is for me a loser.

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  3. Geoff Arnold February 22, 2017 / 1:45 am

    Hi Peter,
    I’m sitting here with my nit-comb and have listened to Groves (very good) and this one (really excellent). This is a very natural recording to my ears with no highlighting. Quite lovely.
    However the nit-comb has picked up that your Spotify link at the top refers to Also Sprach Z, which is Disc One of a 2 disc set with The Planets on disc 2.
    How about Zarathustra for your next survey?
    Keep up the good work.
    Geoff.

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    • Peter February 22, 2017 / 8:45 am

      “Hi Peter,
      I’m sitting here with my nit-comb and have listened to Groves (very good) and this one (really excellent). This is a very natural recording to my ears with no highlighting. Quite lovely.”

      I agree completely.

       
      “However the nit-comb has picked up that your Spotify link at the top refers to Also Sprach Z, which is Disc One of a 2 disc set with The Planets on disc 2.”

      Unortunately, Spotify lists both albums as one playlist, so I can’t link to only the second disc. Grrr.

       
      “How about Zarathustra for your next survey?”

      If there is a next survey, it probably won’t be Also Spoke Zara’s Thruster. A few months ago I was asked on a classical music forum if I wanted to tackle a new survey, and was given a few suggestions. Zara’s Thruster was one of them (along with The Rite of Spring, Scheherazade, The Nutcracker, among others). But if I did decide to go down the time-consuming path of a complete survey, I reckon it’d be with Carmina Burana.

       
      “Keep up the good work.
      Geoff.”

      Can do, baby.

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      • Geoff Arnold February 22, 2017 / 9:26 am

        Well, IF you do, I would certainly enjoy it. I have had Previn/LSO on LP for a lot of years – lovely EMI recording, but that’s the only one I know. Might have to start saving up, although, all the Planets I have bought since finding this damn addictive website, have been under £3.00 from Amazon, some only 0.01p plus £1.26 post (UK). Can’t complain really, although I realise your situation is different. Still, I certainly know the Planets better than I did 6 weeks ago, and I haven’t tired of them in the least. I think that if I had heard Scheherazade so many times I would never have wanted to hear it again.
        Geoff.

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      • Peter February 22, 2017 / 10:07 am

        Most of my Planets purchases have been on eBay, and they’ve been nice ‘n’ cheap. There’s a new release on Chandos – coupled with, of all pieces, Also sprach Zarathustra – but, because it’s new, the CD is full price, and I don’t want to pay full price for a Planets CD. (I’ve only ever paid full price for a Planets CD once, and that was the the Dutoit when it was first released.) But a part of me wants to hear that new Chandos recording as soon as possible. Do I fork out an exorbitant amount of money for this new Planets recording so I can keep up some semblance of survey completeness, or wait until the price goes down? Decisions, decisions…

        I actually started a survey of Scheherazade, but abandoned it after a few days. I listened to about 15 versions borrowed from a few generous forum participants, but the trouble for me was that they were all good. I couldn’t pick the difference in interpretations.

        I came to the conclusion that Scheherazade is one of those conductor-proof works, and a survey of them would be pointless. (It’d be along the lines of “Yeah, this is a really good Scheherazade, and so is this one, and this one, and… etc.”) So that survey quietly disappeared.

        Carmina Burana, on the other hand, is a piece in which I can spot the differences between them. I have plenty of Carmina Burana CDs to compare (hang on, I’ll count them… I have 26), and can happily buy many more, so a Carmina Burana survey is very do-able. (Well, it’s more do-able than The Rite of Spring, a piece I love but don’t enjoy the prospect of being bombarded by for months on end.)

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