> DVD Audio - Gustav Holst - The Planets [TM]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Planets, Op. 32 (1913-1917) (50.00)
The Mystic Trumpeter, Op. 18 (1904, rev. 1912)* (18.37)
Claire Rutter (soprano)*
Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Chorus/David Lloyd-Jones
Rec 17-18 February 2001, City Hall, Glasgow
NAXOS DVD 5.110004 [68.37]


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Listening to this release just a few hundred yards from the Gustav Holst Birthplace Museum, I was struck by the illogic of Holst being seen as substantially a single-work composer. Before protesters berate me with Web-borne placards, I am a great fan of his orchestral music, including Beni Mora, Egdon Heath, The Perfect Fool and Hammersmith – I just find it saddening that his reputation depends largely on the one work recorded more than any other of his – The Planets.

Not that I don’t like the work. On the contrary, I have been a fan of The Planets for years. But reviewing "yet another" recording seemed to me to be a relatively thankless task. So I am pleased to be proven wrong. Not only is this performance a clean, resonant, committed and enthusiastic one, but the coupling with The Mystic Trumpeter is a great revelation.

Lloyd-Jones’ handling of the RSNO is deft and light when it needs to be, as in the genteel dissonance of Mercury, and thunderous à la Adrian Boult when called for, as in the beautifully atavistic, pagan closing bars of Mars. It is sometimes difficult to penetrate Holst’s orchestration to see the structural integrity of his form, but the RSNO achieve an admirable clarity throughout the work and demonstrate creditable restraint on occasion. For example, the statement of the huge ‘popular’ theme in Jupiter is handled in exactly the right manner – majestic, even bombastic, but not jingoistic. This is a great recording of a very good performance that doesn’t quite match up to Dutoit’s Montrealers or Mehta’s 1971 Angelinos (not to be confused with his later, less deft NY Philharmonic recording) but is nevertheless very creditable in its own right.

There are so many good recordings of The Planets still available that this recording would have serious competition, were it of this work in isolation and were it not for the DVD format. But the addition of The Mystic Trumpeter is a stroke of programming genius. Written in 1904 for soprano and orchestra around a Walt Whitman poem, this is such a sterling setting it’s difficult to rationalise why it languished unpublished in obscurity for three quarters of a century till Colin Matthews and Imogen Holst edited it. There are some sublime moments, including an extremely evocative doubling of horn and soloist to the words "O glad, exulting, culminating song!" Claire Rutter does the work great justice, as do the orchestral players and Naxos are to be congratulated for programming such a stunning piece of Holst on this release.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the disc is the sound – superb even by Naxos’s standards. Clear as a bell, resonant when warranted, muted when the music demands, this sets a benchmark for future DVD recordings. Coupled with informative notes and the full text for The Mystic Trumpeter, this is a warmly recommended disc for repertoire and performance.

Tim Mahon

Also see review by Colin Clarke/Ian Lace

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