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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Planets (1914)
With additional movement Pluto, composed by Colin Matthews.
Film images directed by Rhodri Huw.
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/David Atherton
BBCTV 2004
Region 0 - playable in all regions
OPUS ARTE DVD OA 0916 D [59:00]


When Gustav Holst died in 1934, the planet Pluto had not yet been discovered, making his suite of tone poems unknowingly incomplete. Composer Colin Matthews has set about to rectify the situation by adding a further movement, and it seems to work to great effect.

Reminiscent of Godfrey Reggio’s films with music by Phillip Glass, this photo-montage with orchestral accompaniment is a fresh and vital means of presenting very familiar music. It is, I believe, an ideal way to advocate such masterpieces to a new and perhaps not so educated audience. The photography is brilliant. At times it is disturbing, especially during the opening Mars , the bringer of war sequence in which the image of tanks, tearful peasants, wailing old women and dead bodies makes for a rather shaking image. The political intent here is quite evident, showing war as evil, frightening and deadly, in opposition to the macho, kick-ass image that certain world leaders would like us to have these days.

The most stunning images are in the Venus, the bringer of peace. Filmed in the arctic, and in Ireland among other scenic spots, the glory of nature is portrayed with breathtaking abandon, and this eight-ish minute segment is worth the entire price of admission and bears repeated viewing.

Other techniques include some rather eye-catching animation along with a bit of very clever stop-action and slow-motion photography.

As for the performance, this is not a run-of-the-mill Planets. Atherton recreates the score with both subtlety and aplomb, and with the necessary bravura when called for. It is difficult sometimes to pay too careful attention to the music given the sheer overwhelming beauty of the visual images, but the underpinning is very present, and one comes to a whole new appreciation of Holst’s masterpiece by having a visual element.

This presentation might not appeal to die-hards or those who do not appreciate the mixing of media, but on the whole, I found this to be a most satisfactory rendition, amply enhanced by some fantastic photography. It has much to recommend, and I would encourage at least one viewing if not many.

Kevin Sutton

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