Gustav Holstís The
Planets is one of the most influential
works of the 20th century,
at least in the realm of film scores.
With the current popularity of science
fiction movies and the influence of
John Williamsís music on the genre,
most people have heard the derivatives
of this marvelous work. Williams, of
course, studied and derived much of
his famous Star Wars soundtrack
from The Planets. The Imperial
March is derived directly from Mars,
The Bringer of War; Leiaís Theme
resembles Venus, The Bringer
of Peace. Thus, in some form, everyone
knows this music, whether they consciously
realize it or not. When you approach
something so familiar and so often recorded
it is imperative that both the performance
and the sound quality are excellent.
After all, if the recording is not first-rate,
one can easily find another selection
to better it.
Measured by this standard,
the Atlanta Symphony is quietly becoming
one of the premier symphonies in America.
They consistently release excellent
performances recorded using some of
the finest sound engineering available.
The Planets, with its wide dynamic
range and sudden shifts in timbre and
volume, can easily become a frustrating
experience to listen to on CD. Each
movement may be too quiet or become
too loud rapidly. It is far too easy
to forget that the quietest parts of
a symphony, performed in the symphony
hall, may not translate well to the
recorded media. This is not the case
here, as the 20-bit recording is crystal-clear,
and the dynamic range perfectly suited
and balanced for the home listening
Additionally the musicians
do an excellent job. Each movement is
precisely performed and well interpreted.
Mars is appropriately aggressive
and brash. Venus is wonderfully
peaceful and limpid. Mercury
is appropriately filled with ebullient
energy. Jupiter is wonderfully
upbeat, as the nuances in the low strings
that often donít translate well to recordings
come through here. Saturn can
plod along and become dull if not well
conducted, but that trap is here avoided.
Uranus is impressive in all of
its Dukas-influenced Sorcererís Apprentice
way. Neptune is mysterious and
undefined, and that is exactly as it
In fact this is all
predictably good ... and a good thing
too. The Atlanta Symphony is not attempting
to forge its way onto new ground, but
rather to improve on pre-existing recordings
through a better knowledge of the medium.
The performance is very good, though
it can be argued that have been better
performances but thatís a matter of
personal preference. This is in fact
as good a recording in that realm as
this reviewer has ever encountered.
The sound quality is excellent, if for
no other reason than because the equipment
is better than it was in previous decades.
If the quality were not good then there
would be a great deal of disappointment
with such a new recording. As for the
music it is both familiar and satisfying.
Somehow that too seems appropriate.
After all, Holst was not attempting
to write a work that would be totally
unlike anything ever written before
him. The influences of Stravinsky, Dukas
and Debussy are immediately evident.
Holst was attempting to use language
that had already been established in
a recognizable way. His success is what
makes this piece a masterwork.
In summation, this
is a very good recording of a very familiar
work. What makes this disc so impressive
is that it is so good in so many categories.
If you are looking to add a recording
of Holstís The Planets to your
collection, this certainly would be
an excellent choice.