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Holst: The Planets; Britten: Variations & Fugue On A Theme Of Purcell

Holst / Bbc Symphony Orch / Rozhdestvensky
Release Date: 02/28/2012 
Label:  Ica Classics   Catalog #: 5053   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Benjamin BrittenGustav Holst
Conductor:  Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 8 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HOLST The Planets. BRITTEN Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra Gennadi Rozhdestvensky, cond; BBC SO; Ladies of the BBC S Ch ICA 5053 (68:07) Live: London 3/12/1980, Osaka 6/1/1981

When Gennadi Rozhdestvensky became conductor of the BBC Symphony in 1978, he was the first Soviet conductor to take a post in the West. This was not to be taken for granted. A horn player in the London Symphony told me they had Rozhdestvensky conduct them in the Read more 1980s “when we could get him out.” In 1979 a young British cellist named David Leibowitz said to me that London musicians regarded Rozhdestvensky’s conducting technique as second only to Karajan’s. What might have been surprising was the conductor’s interest in British music. Carlton Classics released a fine BBC broadcast of Vaughan Williams’s Fifth Symphony, and Rozhdestvensky went on to record all of R.V.W.’s symphonies. He once said that critics would label a poor performance of Russian music by him as idiomatic, while denigrating good performances of non-Russian works. He is not the only Russian conductor to have The Planets in his repertoire; Evgeny Svetlanov recorded it with the Philharmonia. Rozhdestvensky’s 1980 rendition of the work as presented here is outstanding, and his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is nearly as good. This CD is a valuable souvenir of this conductor at his best.

Rozhdestvensky begins The Planets with a Mars that is warlike and menacing, including superb contributions from the BBC brass. Whole armies on the march are suggested. Mars’s conclusion is an apotheosis of death and destruction. Rozhdestvensky’s Venus owes much to Debussy’s Nuages and Ravel’s Mother Goose . His Mercury goes a little faster than usual; this winged messenger really flies. Here this movement performs the function of a scherzo. I always have felt that Gustav Holst’s Jupiter is a portrait of his great friend Vaughan Williams. Rozhdestvensky leads it at a measured pace, with the violins taking long bow strokes at the beginning. The famous tune is not milked but is exquisitely phrased, with tone colors reminiscent of R.V.W.’s “London” Symphony. That work also is evoked in the return of the A section, right down to the London taxi cabs’ horns.

Saturn being the bringer of old age, Rozhdestvensky here examines the mystery of death. This aspect of The Planets appears in his reading as part of an emotional journey of the soul. I like Michael Kennedy’s suggestion that Uranus, as the magician, owes something to Dukas’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and even to the Witches’ Sabbath from Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique . But Rozhdestvensky’s magician also is a trickster, drawing heavily on Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegel and even a taste of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer . For Neptune, Rozhdestvensky’s mystic is a close relation of the druids in Ives’s The Unanswered Question . The last three planets thus become a suite within a suite, leading us from death to magic—to mystery. The textures of Rozhdestvensky’s Neptune owe something to the mysteries of Scriabin as well. In sum, Rozhdestvensky’s Planets is unique in my experience and grows on you with repeated hearings.

For Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide , the orchestra’s textures are marvelously clear, with well-judged balances. Tempos from one variation to the next are flexible, emphasizing the originality of the harmony and orchestration. The harp’s variation is particularly lovely. Rozhdestvensky’s superb technique brings out all the details in the variation for percussion. He takes the fugue rather quickly, seeming to find a relation to the finale of Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, and showing off the BBC Symphony’s virtuosity. The tempo broadens appealingly for the final statement of the theme. The excellent remastering engineer Paul Baily appears to have done fine work with his sources. The Holst sounds clear and full, with just occasional fuzziness from the violins. The Britten is crisper and better detailed, if a little dry. If you are looking for a studio recording of The Planets , I would recommend André Previn with the London Symphony and James Loughran with the Hallé Orchestra. I would love to see a CD issue of Andrew Davis’s version of the Britten with the London Symphony. As for Rozhdestvensky, he is one of the marvels of his profession. His Planets shines quite unlike any others I know of.

FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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Works on This Recording

Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 34 by Benjamin Britten
Conductor:  Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1946; England 
Date of Recording: 06/01/1981 
Venue:  Festival Hall, Osaka, Japan 
Length: 16 Minutes 32 Secs. 
The Planets, Op. 32/H 125 by Gustav Holst
Conductor:  Gennadi Rozhdestvensky
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1914-1916; England 
Date of Recording: 03/12/1980 
Venue:  Royal Festival Hall, London 
Length: 50 Minutes 11 Secs. 

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