Before listening to this beastie, I’d heard on the electronic grapevine (i.e., the Internet) that Maazel’s Planets was a shocker – and I don’t mean it’s shockingly good. No sir/ma’am. I’d heard that it was, and I quote, “the worst of all the planets recordings.” Somebody else said, “Bad, Bad, Bad sound.” And someone offered this: “the WORST, and one of the worst CD’s of all time.”
I was exceptionally keen on hearing it. I would love to know how bad a recording of The Planets could be.
I’m now listening to it.
“Mars” is slow. Slow is fine. I can live with slow, as long as it’s menacing. This is as menacing as a puppy dog. Wow, that’s sloppy playing from the violins. It’s as if Lorin (Hi, Lori!) instructed his violinists to play as sloppily as possible. (“OK, chaps: Sul ponticello, stringendo, legato, pizzicato – all at once please.”). There is an impressively bad note at 1:41, and the orchestra is not entirely in tune from 2:51-2:55. That’s fairly manageable, but a little while later (six seconds later to be precise) the brass section is woefully out of tune with itself from 3:01-3:09. That was painful to hear. But at least the big bang at 3:25 was OK.
It’s here, at the halfway mark of “Mars”, that I’m thinking, “Everyone involved with this recording was happy for it to be released? Really?” And then I thought this recording must have been one of those contractual obligation things, where an artist is required to record something, anything, to fulfil his or her contract. That must be it. Otherwise, I’m back to thinking my original thought (i.e., “Everyone involved was fine with this going out to the public?”).
Speaking of “out of tune”, things really go off the rails from 4:28-4:36. I don’t know who was out of tune, but it was horrible. There are other niggling things about Marzipan’s “Mars”, but I’d spend way too much time mentioning them. (Plus, I’d come across as even more pedantic than I do already.)
Now for “Venus”. It’s OK. But it sounds as if the orchestra’s heart isn’t really in what they’re doing. The strings sound like they couldn’t be bothered (they’re annoyingly out of tune here and there – just enough for me to go “Grrr”).
And “Mercury” is… well, it’s probably the unfleetest “Mercury” I’ve ever heard. This particular Winged Messenger must be carrying a very heavy message. Or maybe it doesn’t want to deliver the message at all. The string section’s entry at 1:40 is out of tune. Grrr. And again at 1:44. Extra grrr. (The out-of-tune-ness of Maazel’s orchestra is starting to bother me in a big way).
Well, I can be a bit more positive about “Jupiter”. That’s played semi-energetically (and with a variety of out-of-tune instruments at 0:43, 0:49-0:56, and in a heap of other places). Maazo’s “Jupiter” is OK (apart from the frequent intonation problems.)
“Saturn” is better.
“Uranus” is not as good as “Saturn”, but better than “Jupiter”. If I wanted to use one word to describe Ma-ha-ha-zel’s “Uranus” (and I do), it’d be “flabby”.
“Neptune” is probably the best movement of all the movements on display in this here recording.
All up, this Planets recording is a non-contender. It isn’t the worst one I’ve heard (Hello, Bernard Herrmann and the London Philharmonic Orchestra), but it’s bad enough.
Having typed all of the preceding words, I must admit that, overall, Maazel’s Planets was nowhere near as bad I thought it was going to be, but nowhere near as good as I wanted it to be.