Owain Arwel Hughes’ performances with the Hallé when
I was in Manchester, around 1980, were marked by reliability,
a working rapport with the orchestra and evident enthusiasm.
Here he brings another Pluto-appended Planets to the
cheaper end of the CD market (budget price), bringing inevitable
comparison with the super-budget Naxos issue (see my
review). Where Naxos offered
The Mystic Trumpeter, Warner adds the wonderful Somerset Rhapsody - more later.
Arwel Hughes’ Planets is good, but not excellent.
The Royal Philharmonic, it must be stated, plays superbly. The
recording could have a little more depth, as ‘Mars’ demonstrates
perfectly; most impressive are the twisting, slithering lines
in this movement, to which Hughes gives a distinctly ominous
Just how much rehearsal did they have, I wonder?. The
chord-balancing in the peaceful ‘Venus’ is slightly shoddy,
but on the credit side here there is some very delicate and
lovely string playing. The same question about rehearsal time
is brought up by a careful ‘Mercury’, whose wings seem clipped
on this occasion. Again, the opening of ‘Jupiter’ -the most
popular movement? - sounds a little like a rehearsal speed,
and horn ensemble at around the two-minute mark is ragged. Hughes
gives the ‘big’ tune lots of space, but it lacks the grandeur
that is its true due.
Perhaps the best planet is Saturn. Sounding distinctly
elderly - a positive comment – the planet is, after all, the
Bringer of Old Age - even here a more ominous tread would have
been welcome. A light-footed ‘Uranus’ includes a passage that
here reminded me of an analogous moment from Stravinsky’s ‘Rite
of Spring’; the icy part around 4’40.
ladies are magnificent, leading to the more forbidding Matthews.
Pluto brings icy coldness. Actually ‘Pluto’ sounds more
Holstian than I remembered, although the raucous outbursts -
nicely caught in this recording - are Matthews through and through.
The Somerset Rhapsody comes from Holst’s interest
in English folk music. This well-crafted work emerges naturally
in Hughes’ hands, the gorgeous end dying away into nothing.
However, Boult on Lyrita (SRCD222, available exclusively from
Harold Moores: http://www.hmrecords.co.uk/catalogue/A003000000015cj3/page1.php)
remains without parallel in this work.
Despite some nicer moments it is difficult to recommend
this Planets unless it is this particular pairing you
are searching for.