63. Yan Pascal Tortelier, BBC Philharmonic, 1996

Holst - The Planets (Tortelier, BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, 1996)

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This recording of The Planets was an “exclusive CD available only with BBC Music Magazine“. It might be a little unfair for me to include it in this list, considering you probably can’t get it anywhere (well, anywhere legitimately). Update: You can buy it. Amazon.com has it, as does eBay (there are a few copies floating around there).

“Mars” is OK. The low strings from 0:50-1:00 sound more “teddy” than “grizzly” bear. However, that’s a pretty impressive tam-tam (miniature gong) at the first orchestral climax (1:20). I must admit that as this “Mars” progresses it picks up a bit of steam, so by the time the second orchestral bang comes along (at 2:15), things are motoring nicely. (Sorry about the incongruous metaphors in the previous sentence.) The intense scurrying (from 3:11) building up to the third orchestral boom (at 3:16) is marvellous. Unfortunately, the loud march (4:26-5:15) has an orchestral balance I don’t like much. For me, the trumpet is way too loud relative to the rest of the orchestra, so that when it stops at 4:54 but the march keeps going, you really notice its absence. But apart from balance shenanigans, this “Mars” is not too bad.

Just before I move on (Note to self: Do it quickly, Peter), I want to mention the tam-tam playing just before the orchestra goes into its death throes 6:52-6:54. It’s fabulous. Such control of that little gong is magnificent.

“Venus” is alright (i.e., nothing special). As these Planets progress, I’m finding them becoming more and more anonymous. They’re not sounding… well, not sounding anything really. They’re played well (I haven’t heard any howlers), but I’m not getting much of a sense of character about them.

There’s nothing much to report about “Mercury”, so I won’t.

The reappearance of the Jolly Tune in “Jupiter” (5:58-6:18) is very nicely done, but the rest of the movement is a bit forgettable.

“Saturn” is fine, but there’s nothing in it that makes me go “Wow, this is a great version!” Nothing at all.

And the same goes for “Uranus” (although I did get to hear a mistake at 3:41, which enlivened up proceedings just a little).

As it does with “Neptune”.

Now, I don’t want to offend anyone involved in the making of this record (which would be everyone from the conductor to the orchestra to the recording studio personnel to the management team to whoever paid for it to be recorded), but for me this recording of The Planets was a fairy hefty dose of “blah” – or as young people like to say, “Meh”. It’s The Meh Planets.

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