81. Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, BBC Symphony Orchestra, 1980



Oh yeah. This “Mars” starts off menacingly. Good. The ensemble playing is a bit shaky (try 2:20-2:35), but it’s an invigorating “Mars” – i.e., it’s lively. The more I’m listening to it, the more I’m realising the playing’s not that great. And the more I’m listening, the more I’m realising this is not a heavy-duty interpretation of “Mars”. It’s more “Mars”-Lite. This sounds like it could be a live recording. I’ll see if can find some details about it… Hang on… Yep. They’re concert recordings. Fair enough.

“Venus” is very nice, except for the intonation problems with the violins from 2:54-3:14. Unfortunately, those problems were followed by an even bigger problem: the solo violin is out of tune playing the high notes from 3:14-3:26. Ah, the perils of live recording. 4:28-4:37: Now the solo cello is playing out of tune (the notes are sharp). 5:28-5:39: More out-of-tune-ness from the solo cello. Ah well.

“Mercury” is better. There are less slip-ups, and it sounds as if the orchestra is settling in to the performance. Noteworthy Mercury Moment: The fun horn toot at 1:18. (I think the horn player played it a little louder than he or she had planned.) There’s still some pretty ragged playing from the orchestra (1:25-1:32), but I’m finding this “Mercury” a more enjoyable experience than the first two movements.

As for “Jupiter”… I’m afraid this won’t do. This won’t do at all. This is the dreariest opening to “Jupiter” I have ever heard. It’s like the orchestra is trying to play while wearing mittens (or they’re sitting in a vat of molasses). No, this won’t do at all. Gennadi, what are you doing? Why did you ask the orchestra to play so slowly? And why did you get them to slow down even more just before the Jolly Tune (from 1:05-1:11)? What gives? Was this a bet? Did you lose a bet, Gen? 1:54-2:28: Oh dear. And that mistake from the trumpets at 2:22 didn’t help. Super-Hyperbole Alert: The mistake by the trumpet at 2:24-2:26 is, without a doubt, the worst mistake I have ever heard by any orchestral musician on any recording. Ever. I feel bad for that musician, because someone, somewhere (not the trumpeter), decided this performance of The Planets was worth releasing. Because of that heartless decision, I cringe for the trumpeter who has to live with the knowledge that his or her mistake is on record. Permanently. (Ah, the perils of live recording.) And the horrors continue. At 3:43 there’s a mistake in which it sounds like not one, but two horns cracked a note at the same time. (That’s not mathematically possible is it?) “Jupiter” has finally finished, and now it’s time for “Saturn”. Please, please, please be decent.

Phew. “Saturn” has started off well. That’s a relief. This isn’t too bad at all. I’m now at the 2:30 mark, and nothing catastrophic has happened. From 2:40-2:52 the ensemble’s a little unsteady, but it’s OK. Hold your nerve, guys – you can do it. Just a few more minutes… At the moment I am so nervous for this orchestra. I really don’t want anything bad to happen. Just a little bit more. 4:00: We’re reaching the climax of the movement. Come on guys, you can do it. I believe in you. 4:25. Good. 4:30. We’re getting there. 4:40. Just a little bit more. 4:50. Yes, I think we’re gonna make it. 4:55: Yes! You did it! OK, we’re at the plateau of the entire movement. Everything’s steady. That’s good. And now the brass comes in. Yep, they’re fine. 5:11: Oops, a little slip-up with the brass. That’s OK, it was just a little slip-up. 5:23: Now we’re winding down. I can see the home stretch. Not that far to go now, guys. Only a few minutes. 4:46-4:52: The tubas were a little iffy, but no-one will notice that. We’re almost there. 5:59: Good, now we’re at the end section where’s there’s no brass. Excellent. Now it’s up to the low strings, flutes, and harps to take us home. Oh no, the organ. I forgot about the organ. I hope it doesn’t mess up. You can do it, organ. 7:01: Yes! The organ’s fine. Phew. 7:04: Aaaaargh! Horns! Making a big mistake! Noooooooooooooo! I completely forgot about the horns in the last section! Oh no. This is bad. Really bad. Can we get the horns to play very, very quietly, Gen? No? What do you mean, they’re in the score and they have to play the way they’re written? But Gen, can’t you use your “interpetative skills” and make the horns sound as if they’re not there? What do you mean I’m being unreasonable? And what do you mean, you’re the conductor, and I’m just the listener? You’re not pulling rank are you, Gen? What’s that? You want me to keep listening to the music, and stop typing rubbish? But Gen, have a listen to those horns. They’re not gonna help you win any “I’m one of the Great Conductors” awards. 7:06: Really, Gen, those horns aren’t getting much better. 7:10: They’re playing some weird notes that I’m not sure are even in the range of a horn. 7:12: Look, Gen, there’s this one note a horn keeps playing, but I don’t know if it’s sharp or flat. It’s freaking me out. What, Gen? You didn’t notice it? Really? And you think of yourself as a Great Conductor? Really? 7:18: Look, there it is again. You’re telling me you can’t hear that? Gen, are you wearing earmuffs? 8:58: Now I can hear the audience. I’m not sure if that’s the sound of restlessness, or relief that “Saturn” has finished.

Now for “Uranus”. This is so much better that I can’t tell you. Actually, I can: This is so much better. There are little oopsies from various members of the orchestra, but they’re so tiny they’re not worth mentioning. Is “Uranus” the best thing about these Planets? Well, I haven’t heard “Neptune”, but I’ll say yes. (I might change my mind if in “Neptune” there’s the sound of a fire engine in the hall because a tambourine caught alight. That would make it the best Planets ever.) “Uranus” finished without any major gruesomeness. Now it’s time for “Neptune”. (Fire engine. Fire engine. Fire engine…)

Aw, this is boring. “Neptune” is fine. No monumental mishaps, no bizarre orchestral balances, no fire engine. “Neptune” has finished, and at 7:28 the applause begins. But it’s odd. This is what I reckon happened: One person in that hall started clapping (I don’t know who – it may not have even been an audience member), and then the audience thought, “We’d better clap too, otherwise the musicians might think we’re rude.” Now, I’m not saying that Gennadi Rozhdestvensky was the one who started the clapping, but I wouldn’t put it past him. The best thing I can say about this live recording is that at the end of it, the orchestra got to go home.


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