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 –
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why it languished unpublished in obscurity for three quarters of a century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.
Also see review
by Colin Clarke/Ian Lace