Even at budget and mid price there is no shortage of
decent performances of The Planets in the catalogue. At around
five pounds however this Philharmonia performance under the dependable
guidance of Leonard Slatkin has to be considered excellent value for
money, especially as there is a more than acceptable Vaughan Williams
Tallis Fantasia thrown in for good measure.
The RCA Red Seal "Sound Dimension" series
have all been remastered using 24-bit technology and whilst a recently
reviewed simultaneous release of Stravinsky ballet music by the
RPO under Yuri Temirkanov was not so successful, in this case at least
the sound is full, well balanced and vividly realistic.
Mars begins in a suitably ominous manner, the
brass section showing themselves to be in fine fettle, although it is
a shame that the central glowering string section lacks the necessary
brooding menace. As a result the movement does not quite achieve the
optimum degree of cumulative momentum. Venus is appropriately
calm and serene (some beautifully ethereal sounds from the strings here)
whilst Mercury is an impressively delicate and fleet footed winged
messenger, the orchestra responding to Slatkinís direction with some
particularly taut woodwind ensemble. Jupiter is exceptionally
well played with particularly impressive brass once again. It may not
be quite up there with the best for sheer jollity but is enjoyable nonetheless.
It is well known that Saturn was the composerís personal favourite
and it always strikes me as the most difficult movement to pull off
convincingly. Here Slatkin gets the inexorable tread of the music just
right, the opening atmosphere daunting, the slow martial crescendo to
the huge central climax finely paced and the feeling of tranquillity
and reconciliation in the closing paragraphs beautifully handled. By
comparison Uranus could perhaps be a little more grotesque in
the central maniacal march but overall comes off well. Unfortunately
it is Neptune that for me, lets the performance down. This movement
rarely fails to send a shiver up my spine but I am afraid a lack of
ebb and flow in the phrasing, coupled with a few "lumpy" entries
spoil the sense of mystery. The New London Childrenís Choir sings well
although I have to say that I find a ladies choir to be more effective
in the closing bars. Overall though, this does not mar a performance
that ultimately has much to offer.
At over seventy minutes total playing time the inclusion
of the Vaughan Williams Greensleeves and Tallis Fantasia
only serve to add to the excellent value of this disc. The Tallis
Fantasia in particular is a rewarding performance, maybe lacking
the sense of profound rapture and depth of tone to place it with the
finest but warm in spirit and enjoyable never the less.
In conclusion, a disc that offers undeniably good value
for money coupled with decent, solid performances. However, I canít
see anyone who already has their favourite recordings of these works
putting the disc to the top of their list.