with works by DEBUSSY and Morton GOULD
conducted by Leopold STOKOWSKI
CALA RECORDS CACD 0526
The Planets is an undisputed master work of modern classical music
and its reputation only continues to grow with time. Its influence has been
far reaching and many film composers have produced music that is easily
recognisable as inspired by Holst. Hans Zimmer's recent score for
Gladiator (which I very much admired) is a case in point.
This particular interpretation of this towering work is the 1943 live NBC
broadcast conducted by Leopold Stokowski and it certainly has a different
feel to some of the more modern recordings I've heard. There's also some
very noticeable hiss and crackle during the quieter moments (the subtle 'Venus,
the Bringer of Peace' for instance) which I suppose is forgivable because
of the source, but at times it was so bad I began to think I was actually
listening to vinyl! Even so, Stokowski and the National Broadcasting Company
Symphony Orchestra give an interesting, individual reading.
The Planets is so well known, it seems superfluous for me to go
into any great detail about the work. It's enough to say that the majesty
and sheer power of 'Mars, the Bringer of War' almost takes your breath away.
The nobility and energy of 'Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity' (although it never
strikes me as particularly jolly; indeed it often brings a lump to my throat!)
is another highlight and that finale is film music if ever I heard it!! In
fact, the early part of 'Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age' sounds uncannily
like Bernard Herrmann to me!
Actually from the first time I heard The Planets I've believed Holst
would have made a tremendous film composer. And if this is not the best version
available (apart from the problems of inferior recording), it's still always
enjoyable to hear another take on this truly magnificent work.
As a bonus there are also two pieces from Debussy. 'Prelude to the Afternoon
of a Faun' and 'The Engulfed Cathedral'. The second is certainly my favourite
of the two, a powerful, distinctive composition that also has a strong cinematic
quality (in fact a brief electronic segment featured in John Carpenter's
Escape from New York).
Finally Morton Gould provides 'Two Marches for Orchestra' "in Tribute to
Two of our Gallant Allies". Firstly there's the agreeable 'The New China
March' with its now archetypal oriental stylings, plus the very familiar
'The Red Cavalry March', which is probably just about as recognisably Russian
to we westerners as anything I can think of, with perhaps the exception of
Fans of Stokowski will obviously love this, but the selections are strong
enough to appeal to just about anyone who enjoys great music. However, being
a live recording from what was technically a primitive era, the sound quality
does leave a lot to be desired. But then on the other hand the music does
have an authentic rawness about it that might be attractive to some. Others
though may be rather put off, so be warned.