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Gustav HOLST (1874-1934)
The Planets, op. 32 (1914-16) [51:10]
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (1897) [11:13]
Jörg Endebrock and Susanne Rohn (organs)
Konrad Graf (percussion)
rec. 2019, Lutherkirche Wiesbaden
Reviewed in SACD binaural stereo
HD-KLASSIK 3D-001901 SACD [62:23]

Having tackled Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (review) in an arrangement for two organs and percussion, Cybele’s specialist binaural HD-Klassik label treats us to two highly popular orchestral works with the same musicians and in the same venue. We’ve heard Holst’s The Planets on organ before with Hansjörg Albrecht on the Oehms label (review), but the arrangement here takes us a step further, using both the full majesty of the 1911 Walcker and 1979 Klais organs in the Lutherkirche Wiesbaden, and a full battery of percussion in arrangements by Jörg Endebrock.

The natural sound of the binaural recording with its minimalist two microphone set-up once again prevents the stereo image becoming a duel between the two organs, and you can close your eyes and imagine just one vastly versatile instrument. The drums initially add suitable menace in Mars, the Bringer of War, but the thudding bass drum tends to fill up the acoustic and becomes a bit too saturating to my ears by the end. Venus is uncontroversial and gorgeous as usual, and the flighty Mercury is perfect for our virtuoso players, and while I’m not sure the penetrating high percussion near the opening adds much the judiciously applied low timpani provide some excellent moments of emphasis. I was always advised against using of timpani in a melodic function in orchestration lessons, but that’s what we have in Jupiter at a few moments, and I can as easily imagine it working fine if those moments were drum free. The timpani work best adding colour and subtle emphasis, and things sail close to becoming a bit corny at one or two corners in this movement with occasional isolated cymbal and tambourine strikes that can sound a bit eccentric.

Saturn with its slow pendulum and deep sonorities is highly atmospheric here, building inexorably in power, and the timpani and bass notes creating a weighty tread. Almost-in-tune tubular bells add to the magic further along, and the transition to Uranus is as effective as it should be. There is a minor problem with a use of a marimba early on. Tracking the melody with marimba against the inevitably more amorphous organ it becomes impossible to tell if the organ and percussion are in fact together in their accelerando, so it sounds as if they aren’t, even if they are – if you get what I mean. These ideas might look neat on paper, but in practice are possibly more trouble than they are worth. The massive climax and dramatic low notes are nicely done, but rely heavily on the timpani for their impact. The final Neptune works superbly, the interaction between the organs in those mysterious semi-resolutions setting up some fine harmonic potential, though the arrangement arguably becomes a bit filigree and fussy, and the percussion textures arguably sound as if someone has turned on an air conditioner, though if you listen closely you can hear gentle drum rolls and cymbal work creating atmosphere. The vox humana ending and fade-out are nice touches, taking the place of that vanishing off-stage chorus.

Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is another colourful score that adapts well to arrangement, and the two organs are very much equal to the task of drawing us into the famous narrative. Glockenspiel adds sparkle but is wisely held in reserve, and the percussion in general helps create an orchestral effect. The organs have some tremendous fun with various stops and combinations, and the atmosphere of the opening and increasingly tumultuous effects further along create just the narrative effect that this piece needs.

This CD will play on standard stereo equipment, and in SACD 5.1 surround, but what you also get with this disc is the same recording twice, the SACD layer with the 3D binaural mix subsequent to the more conventional SACD stereo version. There is a richer sound quality and more effective definition between the instruments in the 3D version over headphones, and some of the aforementioned criticisms mentioned diminish as a result. Rhythm and repeated notes in the organs become more audible, and the effect is a considerable enhancement. Always in great admiration for the playing and recording techniques with these releases, I would have to say this recording falls only just a little short of 100% when it comes to being an absolute success. I’m all for hearing familiar music in new guises, and while for the Holst in particular this probably won’t for many people feel like much of an enhancement on the best of the orchestral versions around it certainly works well enough on its own terms. I would have said that, when it comes to percussion, less can be more – but you can get used to such things…

Dominy Clements

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