20. Sir Neville Marriner, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, 1978

Holst - The Planets (Marriner, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, 1978)

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Two words: sedate, and very polite. (Well, that’s actually four words. And a comma.)

When I’m not in the mood to hear an “Orchestral Showpiece!” and want to relax with The Planets, I play this. But two words don’t make a terribly helpful review. Let’s see if I can find some things to talk about Nev’s Plans

“Mars” is enjoyable. It’s not brutal the way some “Mars”es can be, but I think “Mars” can handle a few different interpetations. It can certainly handle this one. I enjoyed it.

“Venus” is nice. It’s not in “Oh wow, this is the most peaceful thing I’ve ever heard” territory, but I like how Nev and His Nevsters approach it. (They approach it in a relaxed manner.)

“Mercury” is frisky, but it’s a gentle frisky. I like it. There’s a wee bit of “I don’t think we’re all in tune” by the strings (1:29-1:33), but it’s exceedingly minor. (Can something exceed in being minor? Doesn’t the word “excess” mean there’s too much of something? And why did I even bother using the word “exceedingly” when all it did was create this nonsense you’re currently reading in parentheses?)

Oh, one more thing about “Mercury”: I want to mention something monumentally weird I heard that I’d never noticed before in any other Planets recording. (Maybe I wasn’t listening hard enough before.) From 3:30-3:40, while everybody else is playing regular notes in the dual keys of E major and C major, the double basses suddenly play a long, sustained B note (it lasts for 13 bars, if you’re counting along). At first I thought it was traffic noise, like a lorry going by the recording studio, but it sounded more like a note played by a musical instrument. I consulted the score, and there it was: a B note for the double basses, while the other instrument were playing completely different notes. In all of the 60 or so other recordings of These Ol’ Planets I’ve encountered, I’d never heard anything like it. I guess other orchestras and conductors do their best to hide that bizarro B. But not The Marriner. I’m glad he stood up for The B That Didn’t Belong.

“Jupiter” is splendid – as it almost always is (it takes a special kind of conductor to mess up “Jupiter”). There are some inconsequential woops-a-daisies, such as a trumpet having a bit of trouble at 1:00 and 1:01 (one little mistake and then a bigger one), a horn has a whole heap o’ trouble with a note at 5:40, a tambourine comes in fractionally late at 6:15, a tuba plays a flat note at 6:20, and the trumpeter’s troubles reappear at 6:53 and 6:54. Unfortunately, I can also hear the trumpeter occasionally straining to play his or her part from 7:19-7:34. And the trumpeter sounds reluctant to play a note at 7:48. (I can see why.) Now, I don’t want to single out the trumpeter. Maybe every trumpeter in an orchestra dreads the thought of playing their part in “Jupiter”. It sounds very difficult. (I’m not a trumpeter, so I wouldn’t know if it is all that difficult to play.) Apart from the trumpet-related shenanigans, this “Jupiter” is mighty enjoyable.

“Saturn” is magnificent (those lower strings at the beginning: wow). Something’s slightly out of tune from 2:05-2:13, something else is out of tune at 3:40, and an instrument goes awry at 4:02, but all of that is insignificant when faced with an interpetation of this magnitude. This is one of the gentlest “Saturn”s you’ll encounter. And it’s now one of my favourite “Saturn”s.

“Uranus” is fun. It’s relatively polite, but that’s entirely in keeping with Big Nevo’s view of These Planets – a view I like very much.

I’d like to point out that Gustav “But I wrote other works” Holst’s creation doesn’t always have to scream “Hi-Fi Extravaganza!” – but I think I already mentioned that at the start of the review. Please stop me if I start repeating myself.

“Neptune” gets off to a bad start, with the orchestra’s wind section not showing itself off as the best wind section in the world. (It may very well be the best, but it wasn’t during this recording session.) With that in mind, I’d heartily recommend skipping 0:11-0:19. From 0:20 they settle down and become awfully good. Everything from 0:20 is lovely. Well, almost everything: from 1:36-1:48 it’s the brass section’s turn to be not the world’s best.

Summary please, Peter.

Taken in toto (I so want to make a joke about that phrase), I really like Never Say Neville’s Planets. It’s the Relaxing On A Sunday Planets.

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5 thoughts on “20. Sir Neville Marriner, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, 1978

  1. Sgt Yard August 30, 2016 / 6:24 pm

    Hi Peter! I happened across Sir Neville’s recording of “The Planets” at the shops today and based on your review I simply couldn’t resist it. :) It is indeed a very pleasant and enjoyable recording, so thanks for recommending it!

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    • Peter August 30, 2016 / 6:30 pm

      You’re entirely welcome, Sarge.

      Like

  2. wonderboy September 20, 2016 / 5:14 pm

    pah – mediocre in all ways

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  3. john lovatt October 24, 2016 / 6:09 am

    Peter; a colon should always be followed by lower case and “it’s” can only ever mean “it is”. If we’re going to be picky about Holst then that gives me carte blanche to be picky about your [lack of ] education. You don’t need a comma after the word “and” because the use of the word and negates the need for one

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    • Peter October 24, 2016 / 8:17 am

      Howdy, John

      Thanks for the corrections.

      I tidied up the capitalisation in the colon sentence (“Two words: sedate, and very polite”).

      However, as for the supposedly misused “its”, I must admit that I’m a tad bewildered, befuddled, and bepuzzled. There’s no instance of “its” in the review anywhere. However, there are eight cases of “it’s”, which makes me think I might need to tame my “it’s” usage.

      As for the “and” sitting next to a miscreant comma, it took a while but I finally found what I think you were talking about. Were you talking about this?

      “From 0:20 they settle down, and become awfully good.”

      I hope that was the sentence, because it now reads:

      “From 0:20 they settle down and become awfully good.”

      Thanks again, young John. From one pedant to another… Skol!

      Like

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