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Holst: The Planets / Rattle, Berliner Philharmoniker


Release Date: 09/12/2006 
Label:  Emi Classics   Catalog #: 69690   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Gustav HolstColin MatthewsKaija SaariahoMatthias Pintscher,   ... 
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic OrchestraBerlin Radio Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 35 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is an Enhanced CD, which contains both regular audio tracks and multimedia computer files.

R E V I E W S

Of the four Berlin asteroids, which occupy the 27-minute second CD (which is also “enhanced” and includes a video section), written to commissions from Berliner Philharmoniker (as the orchestra likes to be known), Kaija Saariaho’s Asteroid 4179: Toutatis floats, diverts, and menaces. It’s the shortest of the asteroids. The longest, just, is Matthias Pintscher’s Towards Osiris, which is busier than Saariaho’s work, less atmospheric, and with a scorching trumpet solo. A sense of culmination, and also indeterminacy, underpins the piece (the vastness of space). Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Ceres strides jaggedly
Read more and, whether rhythmic or lyrical, is always intense as the music travels to a dramatic climax. Brett Dean, a viola player and formerly a member of Berliner Philharmoniker, now building a successful career as a composer, has written a very engaging contribution. Komarov’s Fall (this cosmonaut was the first person to die in space) begins in whispers of dislocated sound and flickers of life. Percussion brings more movement, the rest of the orchestra forming itself. There’s an attractive lightness of scoring, a sense of dimension, a lyrical burgeoning (based on Komarov’s soon-to-be widow speaking with him on the telephone); the final couple of minutes vividly suggest impending disaster, and, then, the break up of the spacecraft into infinity.

The main work is Holst’s The Planets, to which is added, and which cannot be jettisoned, Colin Matthews’s Pluto, the Renewer. Colin Matthews (not to be confused with his composer brother David) introduces the beginning of Pluto into the receding women’s voices of the last Holst planet, Neptune; it’s effective, and a fine piece in its own right—it just means that you can’t have one without the other! (Track 8, that for Pluto, cues once the work has started, presumably deliberately.)

Rattle has recorded The Planets before, 25 or so years ago, an early digital recording, with the Philharmonia Orchestra. Timings between his two versions are remarkably consistent for all seven movements; as then, there is something missing to give distinction. As would be expected, the Berliner Philharmoniker gives a classy, virtuoso account of the music and engagement with Holst’s own virtuosity is palpable, but there is little to suggest more beyond the striking music and the range of colors that Holst invented. Reaction remains similar to Rattle’s earlier version. Yet, there are some fine things from Berlin; the violin lines are lovingly shaped in “Venus,” while “Mercury” is deftly realized, and “Jupiter” is in rude good health, the hymn tune at its center is given rapt and noble attention, a highlight—this is a hand on heart rather than a heart on sleeve moment—although the timpani stroke between 4:35/4:36 seems very fractionally early. But “Mars” doesn’t really set the blood pumping, and “Saturn” (the Bringer of Old Age) is similarly at one remove, the savage climax not quite that, with alarum tubular bells rather reticent. “Uranus” is rather too considered for all the rhythmic clarification; and “Neptune” is appropriately distant, yet also expressive—and here, Rattle’s consideration comes into its own, not least, the dimension afforded the women’s voices spiraling to nothingness at the close of what Holst wrote.

Pluto was discovered in 1930. Holst could, one imagines, have written an extra movement to accommodate it (he died in 1934), but he didn’t. The rights and wrongs of what Matthews has done can be debated; but we have in Pluto, the Renewer a fine piece in its own right (and previously recorded attached to The Planets by Mark Elder for Hyperion and David Lloyd–Jones for Naxos, with the Hyperion issue allowing the listener to program The Planets with or without Pluto). Rattle and the Berliners give a stunning account of the Matthews, which rather shows up the lack of identification with some of the Holst. Matthews includes a brief return of the women’s voices.

Holst’s own recording, his second one from 1926, made with the London Symphony Orchestra, is now superbly transferred by Mark Obert-Thorn for Naxos Historical, 8.111048, a release that also contains Vaughan Williams’s Symphony No. 4 conducted by the composer. Holst’s account is direct, neutral even, yet full of interest. Neutral sums up some of Rattle’s Holst, but not the other works here, and the Berliners’ playing is easeful and honed, if lacking some character at times. (I wonder how many of the Philharmonic’s musicians heard here recorded The Planets for Karajan and Colin Davis?)

Reservations aside, then, for The Planets, the recording quality throughout (made “in concert” rather than “live”!) is very fine: immediate, vivid, and finely colored. Ultimately, the main attractions are the new pieces, and Matthews’s Pluto. The booklet for this release includes a written introduction from Simon Rattle, a note on the Holst and Matthews by Stefanie Wördemann, and the asteroid composers each contribute words on their commissions. The two CDs sell for the price of one.

FANFARE: Colin Anderson
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Works on This Recording

1.
The Planets, Op. 32/H 125 by Gustav Holst
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra,  Berlin Radio Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1916; England 
Venue:  Live  Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany 
Length: 51 Minutes 9 Secs. 
Notes: Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany (03/15/2006 - 03/18/2006) 
2.
Pluto, the Renewer by Colin Matthews
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: by 2000; England 
Venue:  Live  Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany 
Length: 6 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Notes: Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany (03/15/2006 - 03/18/2006) 
3.
Asteroid 4179: Toutatis by Kaija Saariaho
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: Finland 
Venue:  Live  Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany 
Length: 4 Minutes 36 Secs. 
Notes: Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany (03/15/2006 - 03/18/2006) 
4.
Towards Osiris by Matthias Pintscher
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Venue:  Live  Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany 
Length: 7 Minutes 55 Secs. 
Notes: Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany (03/15/2006 - 03/18/2006) 
5.
Ceres by Mark-Anthony Turnage
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Venue:  Live  Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany 
Length: 6 Minutes 40 Secs. 
Notes: Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany (03/15/2006 - 03/18/2006) 
6.
Komarov's Fall by Brett Dean
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Venue:  Live  Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany 
Length: 7 Minutes 49 Secs. 
Notes: Philharmonie, Berlin, Germany (03/15/2006 - 03/18/2006) 

Sound Samples

The Planets - Suite for large orchestra Op. 32: I. Mars, the Bringer of War (Allegro)
The Planets - Suite for large orchestra Op. 32: II. Venus, the Bringer of Peace (Adagio)
The Planets - Suite for large orchestra Op. 32: III. Mercury, the Winged Messenger (Vivace)
The Planets - Suite for large orchestra Op. 32: IV. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity (Allegro giocoso)
The Planets - Suite for large orchestra Op. 32: V. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age (Adagio)
The Planets - Suite for large orchestra Op. 32: VI. Uranus, the Magician (Allegro)
The Planets - Suite for large orchestra Op. 32: VII. Neptune, the Mystic (Andante) [with women's choir]
Pluto, The Renewer
Asteroid 4179 - Toutatis
towards Osiris
Ceres
Komarov's Fall

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