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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Planets Op.32 (1916) [42:35]
Marching Song Op.22 No.2 [3:16]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No.4 in F minor (1934) [29:51]
London Symphony Orchestra/Gustav Holst
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Ralph Vaughan Williams
rec. London, 1926 (Holst), Abbey Road Studios, London, 1937 (Vaughan Williams)
NAXOS 8.111048 [75:42]

 

This coupling is natural but not unique. Koch International Classics released it on 37018-2, though without the little Holst filler. Pearl has released the 1926 Planets on GEMM CD9417. Dutton has done the honours for the VW-conducted Fourth on CDBP 9731, where itís coupled with Barbirolliís first recording of VWís Fifth. Both the Planets and the VW Four are linked through the advocacy of Adrian Boult who famously premiered them both. And so now at budget price comes this new Naxos.

Most people who have an objective view on the subject and who have listened to the two performances either on 78 (preferable) or on a number of transfers over the years come down firmly on the side of Holstís earlier, acoustic 1923 recording of the Planets. Its rhythmic profile is that much more persuasive and Holst was nothing if not implacable in his promotion of rhythm in his performances. Despite the limitations of the late acoustic set-up Iíve also much preferred it as a major statement from a relatively inexperienced composer-conductor on his own work. The later early electric is not at all poor but is subject to some of the kind of exaggerations in tempo and balance that are not present three years earlier, certainly not to the same extent.† Over a decade ago Pearl issued all Holstís acoustic recordings so the Holst devotee should without fail seek out that earlier disc and contrast it with the 1926 electric.

VWís blistering performance of the Fourth Symphony is deservedly famous and no amount of revisionist thinking alters its implacable importance in the scheme of things. Itís one of the few recordings of him as conductor. There are some acoustic Vocalions of the Wasps and Old King Cole ballet, now quite hard to pick up in their original form, and in 1929 he recorded some trifling folk pieces for Columbia Ė one was broadcast on Radio 3 not so long ago. His St Matthew Passion, in English, has miraculously survived and has been issued by Pearl. But the Symphony is his legacy as a composer-conductor. The BBC orchestra copes manfully with VWís exceptionally fast tempi, though even Paul Beard and his string playing colleagues canít quite keep up and ensemble does come adrift at times.

Iím not very happy with these transfers. Iím not sure whether itís the fault of the American Columbias used for the Holst but the transfer sounds dead. Itís transferred at a higher level than A.C. Griffithís EMI work and has somewhat less surface noise as well, which is fine. But itís more constricted than the EMI. Iím aware that at least one previous transfer has used artificial reverb to attempt to compensate for the Petty France studioís lack of bloom but there seems to be too here much lost in higher frequencies.† I also canít believe that the US Victor Golds used for the VW were so dull. Past EMI work on this has veered from good-ish to downright peculiar, with a torrid swishy quality to the original, which was, itís true, not the last word (perhaps appropriately) in finesse. Here this Naxos VW transfer sounds computerised half to death. Disappointing.

Jonathan Woolf 

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