(Image Attribution: I had unwittingly filched the above cover from The Music Parlour. Sorry about that, Señor Music Parlour Dude.)
This is Sir Malcolm Sargent’s first recording of these here Planets. Monophobes Beware: This 1954 recording is in mono. If this bothers you enormously, feel free to look in the direction of Big Mal’s 1958 recording: it’s a stereo affair. Now, to the record at hand (or foot, or elbow, or…).
“Mars” is fine. If you can put up with the mono-ness, and the fairly fierce treble, you’ll be treated to a mighty, mighty “Mars”. It’s energetic. (I was going to say it’s full of beans, but I don’t know if you use the phrase “full of beans” where you are.) The march beginning at 4:03 is fabulous. It’s fast, and savage, and I got swept up in it. Hoo-wee, that’s a great march. I must tell you that it’s exceedingly difficult not to make puns involving Sir Malcolm Sargent’s last name, and I’m trying very hard not to, but I have to say this: I love Sargent’s march. In the time it took me to type that disclaimer, “Mars” finished. That was an excellent “Mars”.
“Venus” is excellent too. There’s some ever-so-slightly dodgy intonation from the violins here and there (most notably from 2:49-3:10), but it’s nothing that’ll startle the pigeons. (I don’t know why I said that.)
“Mercury” is a large chunk of “wow”. Just get a load of the dynamics from 0:30-0:53, where the orchestral interjections are perfectly judged. Wow. There’s a minor mishap, with some out-of-tune violins at 1:26, but that’s OK. (It’s a small price to pay for a great “Mercury”.)
“Jupiter” is magnificent – but the sound quality is moderately awful.
“Saturn” is great as an interpretation, but it has a few wobbles in the playing department: the brass section is not entirely in tune from 4:08-4:19, and there’s a bad mistake by a trumpet at 4:43. Apart from those hiccups, “Saturn” is fine.
“Uranus” starts off with a blaze of trumpets. This sounds like it was recorded somewhere other than where the other movements were recorded. This “Uranus” sounds like it was recorded in a larger hall. Or maybe I’m imagining it. (Note to self: Probably.) This is one of those “swings and roundabouts” performances. For example, from 1:22-1:26 the horns are flat, but from 1:26-1:39 onwards the brass instruments playing on the off-beat are excellent. Overall, this “Uranus” is splendid. (Love that timpani work, guys.)
“Neptune” is wonderfully spooky. The poor sound quality actually adds to the “ooooo” aspect of the music. Oh, by the way: as the movement is winding down, there’s a weird sound at 5:55. I have no idea what it is. And then it happens again at 5:57. It sounds like a cat meowing. I’ll have to consult the score to see if Gustav didn’t specify a cat to meow at the end of “Neptune”. Hang on… Ah, it’s a couple of harps. I’ve never heard harps sound like that before. Never mind.
I like Mal’s Mono Planets.