43. Ross Pople, London Festival Orchestra, 1991

Holst - The Planets (Pople, London Festival Orchestra, 1991)

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This one had me a bit nervy before I heard it. It wasn’t because of any uncomplimentary reviews I’d read or anything. (I hadn’t seen any reviews of it.) I was nervy because the CD I bought was bronzed, and I didn’t have any other way of hearing it (I couldn’t find it anywhere online). But at least it was cheap. (As always, swings and roundabouts.) I gingerly ripped the CD to the hard drive on the computer, and was relieved to find that all the tracks ripped OK. Phew. Now to the music on that disc…

“Mars” is a fairly low-voltage affair, but I’m enjoying it. 1:21-1:24: Great gong.

Sidenote: Why do people call those little gongs “tam-tams“? Whenever I see “tam-tam” I think of “tom-tom”, those drums in between the snare drum and the bass drum on a drum kit. “Tam-tam” just confuses me. I think I’ll just call them “little gongs”, ’cause that’s what they are.

2:17-2:36: Nice chugging strings. Yum. I’m liking this “Mars” the more I’m hearing it. First sign of dodginess: 2:38-2:40, where a horn plays two notes that sound annoyingly out of tune. But I’m still liking this “Mars”. 4:56-4:58: That low brass playing those two descending notes is very nice indeed. This is still low-voltage, but I’m still enjoying it. Second sign of dodginess: 6:34-6:35. That’s some pretty slack playing there from all concerned. But at 6:36 the little gong came back to save the day.

“Venus” is lovely. I wouldn’t stand on top of a mountain and proclaim it to be The Best Venus Ever, but I’m thoroughly enjoying what I’m hearing (I’m hearing the orchestra play “Venus” very well – and it’s well recorded). Nothing out of the ordinary (so to speak) happens in this “Venus”, but I want to make a special mention of the oboe from 4:00-4:08. It’s lovely. And from 4:22-4:31 it returns, being lovely one more time. There’s some minor wayward intonation from various instruments from time to time, but that’s par for the course in The Difficult-To-Play Planets. I’m getting used to it now.

“Mercury” is fun. I liked the honking bass oboe at 0:18. (A Composer to Gustav Holst: “You know, Gus, there isn’t enough honking in those Planets of yours.”)

“Jupiter” goes off without a hitch (i.e., there are no huge mistakes, no interpretative weirdness etc.). From 2:28-2:35 the trumpets have a bit of trouble staying in tune, but that’s about it for any little “Oh no!” moments. Everything else is fine – not “Wow, this is great”, but fine. There is one lovely moment (for me, anyway): At 3:09, when The Big Tune starts, Ross and his festive orchestra play the second note longer than usual, and I liked that slight stretching of the note. A nice little touch. The rest of The Big Tune (3:09-5:14) is a bit ordinary, but it started off nicely. And the repeat of The Jolly Tune (6:18-6:40) is wonderfully jaunty. Unfortunately, the flutes don’t sound as if they’re enjoying themselves at 7:06 and 7:08 (they’re out of tune), and a trumpet has a hard time with a note at 7:36. But overall, “Jupiter” is, as mentioned earlier, relatively hitch-less.

“Saturn” has started, and a very odd thing happened. The way the opening flute notes are played (with a tiny pause in between each note) make me think of a see-saw. Of all the things I think about when I hear “Saturn”, a see-saw isn’t one of them. Putting aside that bit of weirdness, this is an excellent “Saturn”. Flat Note Alert: Something at 4:59 (it might be a horn). And there’s a wee bit of flat-noteness towards the end of the movement. But it’s excellent.

“Uranus” is, like “Mercury”, fun. Actually, it’s more fun than “Mercury”. I don’t want to keep mentioning tiny things like iffy intonation, and I’ll try to make this the last one for this review, but at 1:53 there’s… you know. Nevertheless, this is a rollicking “Uranus”.

Mysterious “Neptune” begins very slowly. (Maybe Ol’ Rosso was looking for extra mystery here.) Despite the lack of speed, this is one mighty fine “Neptune”.

I see this recording as a slightly-better-than-middle-of-the-road Planets. That probably sounds like “damning with faint praise”, but it’s not meant to. I did enjoy it. It was an enjoyable listening experience.

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