October 2000 Film Music CD Reviews

Film Music Editor: Ian Lace
Music Webmaster Len Mullenger

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Gustav HOLST
The Planets  
with works by DEBUSSY and Morton GOULD
  conducted by Leopold STOKOWSKI
  CALA RECORDS CACD 0526   [77:52]

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 vodka!

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.

Mark Hockley



Mark Hockley


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