"Good recordings of The Planets abound, so it is largely a matter of personal preference as to which is the best. Having heard The Planets in concert once I wish it was programmed more frequently but perhaps its popularity has earned it some disdain from conductors. This recording conducted by John Elliot Gardiner in among the very best. Mr. Gardiner brings forth all of the subtle shadings in the score and the Philharmonia Orchestra responds with an excellent performance. This is an engaging performance. I read a comment by a reviewer that Mr. Gardiner's recording sounded very fresh to his ears - the reason: rhythm. Mr. Gardiner insisted that all the articulation in the score be observed. So, the fleet-footed Mercury dances on air rather than being earthbound and Jupiter is indeed jolly.
The reason to buy this disc is The Warriors by Percy Grainger. The reviewer of this disc got it wrong. John Elliot Gardiner IS the conductor but The Warriors requires an offstage brass ensemble, which must have its own conductor (actually, Grainger calls for three in the score). This is noted on the back of the CD (Achim Holub is assistant conductor) in fine print, as it should. Grainger wrote The Warriors as a ballet intended for Diaghilev's Ballet Russe but the commission he hoped for never happened. The music was written with the composer's frank views of sex in mind and intended as "a wild sexual concert." Certainly, it was ahead of its time in conception but also in scoring. The orchestra is huge and also requires three grand pianos and an extended percussion section. The Warriors was also an experimental work for Grainger. The rhythms and the way the percussion pulsates and interacts is remarkable. For all the size of the orchestra, this recording has exceptional clarity.
Even if you have The Planets by other conductors, this one needs to be in your collection. But it if not for Holst, then for Grainger."
Fresh look at an old friend
Brett A. Kniess | Madison, WI | 04/16/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Holst's masterpiece, The Planets, is coupled here with the virtually unknown, The Warriors, by Percy Grainger. Both works show the extroverted approaches from the composers during the early part of the 20th century, and both employ unique orchestrations and textures to those means.
One of the great characters in classical music, Percy Grainger, describes the 18-minute work The Warriors, as ghosts of male and female warriors...spirited together for an orgy of war-like dances, processions, and merry-makings...with amorous interludes. With large and diverse orchestrations, the piece nearly yields to schizophrenia, but really is outbursts of unadulterated fun. Offstage brass ensemble and a host of percussion, including three pianos, make this Grainger's largest work. Rarely performed, Grainger and the Philharmonic do not hold back, but present a piece of sincere and outgoing revelry rarely heard from the Brits; Gardiner even outdoes Sir Simon Rattle (an all-Grainger disk on EMI). With occasional sections of over-sentimentality and lyrical romanticism, most of the work is orgiastic bliss. Great music!
Holst's The Planets is a seven-movement work describing the Greek God associated with the name of seven planets. The famous first movement, Mars the Bringer of War, is an in your face depiction of thoughts about war at the beginning of the century. Set in an uneven 5/4 meter, and employing a heavy rising brass motive with a trudging march feel, John Eliot Gardiner gives each beat weight and never wavers in tempo. Venus the Bringer of Peace is the first movements' foil; one of solidarity and contentment, featuring the lush strings of the Philharmonia Orchestra. Bordering towards impressionism, it is obvious Holst's feelings of war vs. peace. Gardiner's adagio tempo is a few ticks faster than adagio, but the forward-moving feeling works for him, rather than against, and there are no feelings of wallowing in sound. The virtuosic and light Mercury the Winged Messenger, lets the woodwinds and strings show their abilities. The two against three throughout urges the piece on, and Gardiner takes the movement in stride.
The most famous movement, Jupiter Bringer of Jollity, here is taken swifter than I have heard anywhere else. But Gardiner does not play with the tempo, nor stretches time as much as other conductors do, but instead, marches forward. This has pluses and minuses, but an interesting interpretation, if not unsympathetic, and showing the virtuosity of the ensemble. Saturn the Bringer of Old Age is a plodding pessimistic view of old age. The oscillating chords of time, and long craggy melodies elicit some stubbornness. In contrast, Uranus the Magician is a sprite and virtuosic piece for the orchestra. Holst portrays the magician and his magic as one of fun, but the magician as a dark figure not to be messed with. The final Neptune the Mystic is just that, an unresolved misty outlook to the future. It is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, just unresolved. The addition of wordless female chorus evokes the timelessness of space and the universe, and fades into nothingness.
All in all, this recording of the Planets is fresh and sparkling, presented in 4-dimension digital sound, the Philharmonia Orchestra is excellent; full, vibrant sound complete with organ, bass flute, bass oboe, tenor tuba, and various percussion. John Eliot Gardiner gives a very straightforward performance, a breath of fresh air in many cases. His interpretation is unsentimental, letting the music speak for itself, instead of forcing the issue. The performance is grand. With the addition of The Warriors, an epic work of carefree frivolity, this recording now can stand up against many classic versions easily. Highly recommended."
Exhilirating Holst's "Space Odyssey"
John Kwok | New York, NY USA | 02/08/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Gardiner's interpretation of Holst's "The Planets" ranks with the very best. According to a review I read in either the Penguin or Grammophone classical CD guides, it may be the definitive account, comparable with Dutoit's brilliant interpretation with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and Andrew Davis' with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Gardiner is renowned or reviled - depending on whom you read - for his interpretations of Bach, Handel, Mozart and Beethoven using period instruments. Who could imagine that he feels quite at home conducting a popular 20th Century composition? Throughout Holst's symphonic suite, Gardiner's tempi are often faster, and the Philharmonia responds in a livelier, swiftsure fashion, than these other fine versions. Hence we are rewarded with an extraordinary performance well recorded by Deutsche Grammophon's engineers with their latest sound technology. Among the highlights are a brooding, menacing Mars, a lively, sprite Mercury, and a jovial Jupiter resonating with the ebullient sounds of the lush, verdant English countryside. Oddly enough, Leonard Slatkin recorded a version of "The Planets" with the Philharmonia around the same time, yet his subdued interpretation seems a bit dry, if not dull, by comparison. And so does Grainger's "The Warriors" on this CD, in stark contrast to Gardiner's electrifying interpretation of Holst. Yet this CD still deserves its five star accolade for Holst's 20th Century "Space Odyssey"."
Musically and technically extraordinary
Mike G. | Cincinnati, Ohio | 08/04/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I don't have many bones to pick with this disc. One of the first things I noticed about this CD was the sound. The recording location is listed in the back of the liner notes as "London, All Hallows, Gospel Oak." I'm not sure if this is the Philharmonia's regular concert hall, but I will say that the sound is bigger and richer than most any recording I have ever heard of the Planets. The sound just keeps building off of itself. This is one of the rare occasions where the fff and ffff dynamics are actually achieved. However, that's not to say that the quiet dynamics aren't quiet, because they are as soft as any other orchestra in these spots. Kudos to the Philharmonia Orchestra for this and for technical mastery in general. They are highlighted well by the sound engineers. The clarity is outstanding and the different sections are balanced well. Reviews below seem to contain mixed feelings concerning Gardiner's interpretation - scholarly vs. analytical, electrifying vs. restrained. I believe Mr. Libbey up above hits the nail on the head. Gardiner's account is tasteful yet full of character. It seems we sometimes tend to associate the coolness that English performers bring to the music as having lack of soul, but I don't think that's true. There are several interesting things Gardiner does interpretively. I certainly haven't heard Jupiter played this fast or Mars played this slowly. The first time I heard this rendition of Mars I was almost offended by its sluggishness. But upon repeated listenings I discovered that the rhythmic accuracy is very good, much better than in most other recordings, which sacrifice much of the incisiveness while running only slightly faster. It seems that in this case performing just a little bit slower pays off very well. The intensity is maintained, although at this pace it seems more sustained and overpowering, as opposed to being volatile and strident (both work well; the latter is achieved through a very quick tempo, the opposite of what we have here). The inner movements are taken at a faster pace than most, without losing any of their integrity - in fact, much is gained from this treatment. They are leaner and less sappy, altogether more dignified. Neptune, in addition to Mars, is slower. And it seems Gardiner places the most weight on these two movements - the opening and closing. I've never heard it done this way; usually the greatest weight is placed on Jupiter and Saturn. Here, Neptune gets the "finale" treatment without being too bent out of proportion, and Mars is actually longer than Venus - a rarity among Planets recordings. Overall, the structure is radically different but equally as effective. I highly recommend this recording. Check it out. If you're not satisfied, Dutoit/Montreal seems to be the most popular these days, although it's never convinced me. Two recordings that have convinced me are Levi with Atlanta, and, if you can find it, an out of print recording with Roy Goodman conducting the Queen's Hall Orchestra, possibly the most revelatory and visceral recording of this work, in my opinion.
*On a side note, Achim Holub is the assistant conductor to Gardiner in the Grainger (which actually calls for three, but they cheated), and NOT the assistant conductor of the orchestra who happens to conduct the Grainger by himself, as another reviewer said."