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Holst: The Planets

Holst / Buzz Brass / Barney
Release Date: 01/19/2010 
Label:  Fidelio Musique   Catalog #: 28   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Gustav Holst
Performer:  Mélanie Barney
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buzz Ensemble
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HOLST The Planets Buzz Br; Mélanie Barney (org) FIDELIO FALP028 (2 LPs: 55:19)

Andrew Quint’s feature article on Montréal-based Fidelio Music can be found in Fanfare 33:5. The feature ended with a review of several Fidelio titles, including the CD equivalent (FACD028) of the title I am reviewing here. As someone who still collects and adores vinyl records, both used and new—indeed, every other dream I have involves records!—I thank labels Read more such as Fidelio that have not forgotten those of us who adopted the CD medium because we had to, and not necessarily because we wanted to.

At the outset, I will say that Fidelio has done this release exactly right. It used heavy 180g vinyl, and 55 minutes of music have been divided across four sides, which play at 45 rpm. (The only place the speed is noted, however, is on the set’s plastic overwrap. Initially, I forgot, and I could not understand why I was listening to the most sepulchral performance of The Planets known to mankind!) The surfaces are virtually silent, although my copy has a single deafening pop which refuses to go away two minutes into “Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age.” Perhaps a Québecois gnat got into the pressing plant.

This arrangement for brass quintet and organ of Holst’s evergreen is by Enrico O. Dastous, himself a trombonist and composer, although not a member of Buzz Brass. As Quint pointed out, arrangements of The Planets are not uncommon. (There is at least one for organ alone.) Even so, Holst’s orchestral writing is so beautiful, it is almost a shame not to use it. There are some things I miss in Dastous’s arrangement—the women’s chorus at the end, for example, and the percussion. Still, there is both skill and imagination here, and in abundance. The organ does as much work as the brass quintet, adding both weight and gossamer to the brass textures. The contrast between the relatively diffuse sound of the organ and the pointed sound of the brass is used to the music’s advantage. This is not just a stunt—this is a valid new look at The Planets . I hope I will not be misunderstood when I say that I find Dastous’s arrangement to be, well, unearthly, and perhaps even a little creepy, but undoubtedly appealing. It’s more Phantom of the Opera than Franck, and the deep spaces of Église Saint-Viateur d’Outremont add to that creepiness. You could drown in its air.

So yes, this is an audiophile’s dream, and a test for your equipment. Of course it is a testing ground for brass players, too, as well as for the organist. All of them pass the test: This is brilliant, exciting, yet always controlled playing. Nothing sloppy happens, and nothing stodgy or cheap. While some of Holst’s orchestral effects may be missing, the music’s emotional impact is intact. In fact, if anything, at times it is even enhanced in this arrangement. “Mars, the Bringer of War” could hardly be more shattering, and the galumphing joy of “Uranus, the Magician” here is loud and clear. The brass players are Frédéric Gagnon (principal trumpet and piccolo trumpet), Sylvain Lapointe (trumpet and flugelhorn), Marc-Antoine Corbeil (horn), Jason de Carufel (trombone and euphonium), and Sylvain Arseneau (bass trombone). They all get gold stars, as does organist Mélanie Barney.

I don’t know how the CD compares to the LPs, but you need to hear this recording, in one format or another, unless you dislike The Planets or have an allergy to brass instruments or the organ. This is Want List material for sure. I really hope to hear more from this source.

FANFARE: Raymond Tuttle
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Works on This Recording

The Planets, Op. 32/H 125 by Gustav Holst
Performer:  Mélanie Barney (Organ)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Buzz Ensemble
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1916; England 
Venue:  L'Eglise Saint-Viateur D'Outremont, Mont 
Length: 7 Minutes 33 Secs. 

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