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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The collected recorded works composed, arranged and conducted by the composer
Full track-listing below
EXPLORE MULTIMEDIA EXMOO8 [3 CDs: 58:51 + 42:22 + 36:27 and multimedia section]

This is a valuable set. It includes Holst’s complete corpus of recordings as a conductor, a feat never before achieved on disc, presenting both the 1923 acoustic and the 1926 electric versions of The Planets. It also includes the very late (September 1925) acoustic remakes of two movements – Jupiter and Saturn – which were issued, as was often the custom, under the same catalogue number as the earlier release, to the subsequent bemusement of many a discographer. This is splendid work, given that no previous reissue, to my knowledge, has gone to the trouble of restoring them. Not only that but the Marching Song – the electric version from 1926 which was the ‘filler’ to The Planets set and the reverse side of Mercury – is also making, so far as I know, its first ever appearance on CD. The acoustic version has already appeared.

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 on the side of Holst’s earlier, acoustic 1923 recording of the Planets, as do I. 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 I’ve 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. The acoustic remakes of the Jupiter and Saturn sides sound better than the 1923 sides and make a fascinating appendix or, if preferred, substitution. The remake of Saturn is a bit slower than the 1923 one – but contrast it with the much brisker 1926 electric remake. These questions of tempo fluctuation between recordings made so close in time are a fascinating analogue to this set.

St Paul’s Suite and Beni Mora are the other major works, recorded acoustically, and taken with sprightly drive and well played by such members of the LSO that could fit into Columbia’s studio – in the former case the orchestra is actually designated as 'The String Orchestra', which I presume is the LSO’s string section. The Country Song is another acoustic from September 1924.

Naxos 8.111048 has the 1926 Planets with the Marching Song and Vaughan Williams’ Fourth Symphony conducted by the composer. Pearl GEMM CD 9417 has — if you can find it — the acoustic recording of The Planets, without the alternative take of Jupiter and Saturn, but with St Paul’s Suite, Beni Mora and the Songs without Words - but without the electrically-recorded Marching Song. Koch International Classics released the electric Planets on 37018-2. As for transfers I have slightly mellowed in respect of the electric Planets which so far as I can hear is the same one that Mark Obert-Thorn prepared for Naxos on the disc noted above. I appreciate the deadish sounding Petty France studio causes problems but I would still have preferred a little more room ambience. The Pearl transfer of the acoustics is typically much noisier and thornier than the smoother Obert-Thorn work, but I find the latter more airless and even tiring.

The 3-CD comes note-less and without discographical information, but Mark Obert-Thorn has produced his own comprehensive track-listing, which I’ve used at the bottom of this review which should be closely followed, as it is essential that one understands the recording dates. There’s a multimedia component on the third CD, with galleries on the Holst birthplace museum and the artwork of the boxed set. It’s not really very significant, though the still photographs of the birthplace are good to see. Not sure why it’s all on three CDs and not two, though.

Jonathan Woolf

Masterwork Index: The Planets

Track listing 

CD 1 (58:51)
The Planets, Op. 32 (Acoustic recording)
1 Mars, the Bringer of War (6:09)
(Recorded 30 October 1923; matrices AX 197-2 and 198-2; Columbia L 1528)

2 Venus, the Bringer of Peace (8:15)
(Recorded 23 August 1923; matrices AX 136-2 and 137-4; Columbia L 1499)

3 Mercury, the Winged Messenger (3:35)
(Recorded 23 August 1923; matrix AX 135-3; Columbia L 1543)

4 Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity (7:02)
(Recorded 27 October 1922; matrices 75204-2 and 75205-3; Columbia L 1459)

5 Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age (7:02)
(Recorded 30 October 1923; matrices AX 199-1 and 200-2; Columbia L 1532)

6 Uranus, the Magician (6:05)
(Recorded 24 August 1923; matrices AX 138-2 and 139-3; Columbia L 1509)

7 Neptune, the Mystic* (5:43)
(Recorded 6 November 1923; matrices AX 205-1 and 206-1; Columbia L 1542)

Acoustic remakes

8 Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity (6:36)
(Recorded 15 September 1925; matrices 75204- 8 and 75205-6; Columbia L 1459)

9 Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age (8:21)
(Recorded 19 February 1925; matrices AX 199-3 and 200-3; Columbia L 1532)

London Symphony Orchestra and *Women’s Chorus · Gustav Holst
Recorded in the Columbia Studios, Petty France, London

CD 2 (42:22)
The Planets, Op. 32 (Electrical recording)
1 Mars, the Bringer of War (6:12)
(Recorded 22 June 1926; matrices WAX 1671-1 and 1672-1; Columbia L 1528R)

2 Venus, the Bringer of Peace (7:16)
(Recorded 2 July and 14 September 1926; matrices WAX 1717-1 and 1905-1; Columbia L 1499R)

3 Mercury, the Winged Messenger (3:31)
(Recorded 22 October 1926; matrix WAX 1716-4; Columbia L 1543R)

4 Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity (7:00)
(Recorded 22 June 1926; matrices WAX 1673-1 and 1674-1; Columbia L 1459R)

5 Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age (6:55)
(Recorded 14 September 1926; matrices WAX 1903-1 and 1904-2; Columbia L 1532R)

6 Uranus, the Magician (5:55)
(Recorded 2 July 1926; matrices WAX 1714-1 and 1715-1; Columbia L 1509R)

7 Neptune, the Mystic* (5:32)
(Recorded 22 October 1926; matrices WAX 2039-1 and 2040-2; Columbia L 1542R)

London Symphony Orchestra and *Women’s Chorus · Gustav Holst
Recorded in the Columbia Studios, Petty France, London
CD 3 (36:27)
St. Paul’s Suite
1 Jig (2:44)
2 Ostinato (1:34)
3 Intermezzo (3:42)
4 Finale (3:30)
(Recorded 22 August 1924; matrices AX 558-1, 559-1 and 560-1; Columbia L 1648 and 1649)

Beni Mora
5 First Dance (4:26)
6 Second Dance (3:05)
7 In the Street of Ouled Naïls (6:45)
(Recorded 14 February 1924; matrices AX 304-2, 305-1, 306-2 and 307-2; Columbia L 1586 and 1587)

Songs without Words
8 No. 1: Country Song (3:48)
9 No. 2: Marching Song (3:37)
(Recorded 1 September and 14 February 1924; matrices AX 573-1 and 303-1; Columbia L 1649 and 1543)

10 No. 2 Marching Song (Electric remake) (3:15)
(Recorded 14 September 1926; matrix WAX 1906-1; Columbia L 1543R)

The String Orchestra (St. Paul’s Suite) and London Symphony Orchestra (remainder) · Gustav Holst
Recorded in the Columbia Studios, Petty France, London
Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn

Special thanks to Nathan Brown, Richard Kaplan and Charles Niss for providing source material
A Note on the Recordings

The acoustic version of The Planets was transferred from the best portions of two laminated British pressings and one American Columbia “New Process” pressing. The two rare acoustic remakes (Jupiter was only in print for 14 months, Saturn for six months longer) came from British pressings. The electric version was transferred from two American sets, with nearly all of it sourced from “Viva-Tonal” pressings. Beni Mora was transferred from an American Columbia copy, while the St. Paul’s Suite came from British shellacs.

Unlike the acoustic recordings, which have differing basic original speeds but stable pitches, the electric recordings suffered from pitch drops throughout each side. These have been corrected in the present transfer.

Mark Obert-Thorn