Gustav Holst composed many fine pieces but he is world renowned for just one: his astrologically questing, heavily symbolic The Planets, completed during the height of the First World War in 1917. Holst eventually began to detest this work's popularity, considering it as not representative of his finest work. The Planets is a paradoxical piece in that it has the reputation for being a conservative composition, a throwback to 19th Century tone poems. In fact it contains many advanced compositional elements, not least of which is the brilliantly creative orchestration that Holst unleashes in movements such as Venus the Bringer of Peace, Mercury the Winged Messenger, Saturn the Bringer of Old Age and Neptune the Mystic. Juxtaposing music of elfin lightness whose shimmering arpeggios are played by flutes, celesta, harps and violins with robust outbursts from tubas, trumpets and horns, Holst weaves a sonic tapestry of magic suggesting a human soul wandering a wondrous universe in search of meaning that remains forever elusive. In the final movement, Neptune the Mystic, Holst combines a wordless chorus with a diaphanous gauze of sound that glows in musical stasis until diffusing into a final, troubling eternal silence. This was a new kind of music whose kaleidoscopic ephemera suggests Webern with its pristine ethereal delicacy that dissolves into nothingness.
Ormandy conducts the Philadelphia Orchestra with deftness and skill. He has the measure of this work and gives each movement precisely what it needs in order to convey the effect that Holst intends. The orchestra, with its trademark silken sheen and instrumental suavity, have rarely sounded better than they do on this recording made in 1975.Read more ›
Finally we have a superb remastering (in DSD) of a fabulous recording. The sound on this CD is far and away better than any previous CD release we've had (the original Red Seal release was unlistenable; the RCA Victor Surround Sound and Basic 100 releases, in processed "surround sound", were a sonic disaster; the Classical Navigators, muffled and congested). The root problems were overbearing brightness and a shrill glare, severe lack of warmth and body, and a forward, harsh perspective with no dynamic range.
Sony has thankfully, at long last, taken the time and expense to expertly and carefully remaster this great performance. It has transformed this recording in a way we could never have imagined or hoped. Much like the remastering miracles we heard on many Ormandy and Szell CBS recordings, this RCA receives the same sonic transformation. Completely gone is the forward, bright, shrill glare that we assumed was inherent on the master tapes. And now we hear, like you cannot believe, glorious warmth, body and richness; a realistic, atmospheric portrayal of an acoustic recording space; and a full, dynamic range. Yes, there never is quite a true pianissimo, but it's so much closer than we've had before, I won't complain one bit.
And the performance - well, it is Ormandy at his very finest and most inspired. And the fabulous Philadelphia Orchestra responds with spontaneity and vigor (I had forgotten the clarinet squeak in Saturn - hilarious!). And the biggest surprise of all is the potent contribution of the organ. This is missing or inaudible on most modern recordings, but it is very much heard (and felt) here. The chorus in Neptune is perhaps a little too forward, but it sounds like hundreds of voices, slightly misty and very atmospheric.
For all music lovers and audiophiles alike, this release is cause for celebration. Buy it without hesitation and sit back and luxuriate in a sonic marvel and a true classic performance.
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