The Mystic Trumpeter* Colin Matthews
Pluto, The Renewer
Claire Rutter (soprano)*
Ladies of the RSNO Chorus
Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by David Lloyd-Jones
CD No: NAXOS 8.555776 Duration: Reviewed: March 2002
RSNO play Holst
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
This perceptive rendition of the Planets includes Colin Matthewss controversial extension. Hyperion first recorded Pluto and offers Holsts ultimate movement, Neptune, as a separate track effectively a choice between Holsts Planets with or without Pluto. Given Matthewss high-lying violin line steals into the close of Neptune, Naxos has no such option: here is The Planets from Holst and Matthews.
Itll be interesting to see for how long Pluto remains integral to the larger design, or if it becomes stand-alone with a bit of tweaking (at present, Pluto ends with a return of the distant female voices that close Neptune).
David Lloyd-Jones is very successful in his conducting of Matthewss piece, and equally effective with segueing into it. Pluto is potent in its far-away imagery, its rhythmic and colouristic collisions, and, not least, the Holstian threads that interweave through the textures. I see no harm in what Matthews has done and theres no doubting his integral undertaking of Kent Naganos commission but is there perhaps a danger of Pluto becoming commonplace or, indeed, it becoming difficult not to perform it?
There is a third Planets/Pluto CD en route, I believe. For the moment, Mark Elders choice of version comes at full-price while this only with Pluto issue gives you change from a fiver. David Lloyd-Jones has made some distinguished recordings of British music, mostly for Naxos. This Planets has a palpable sense of menace at the opening of Mars that is somewhat blunted by the synthetic-sounding recording in fully-scored loud passages. The sound is variable and one or two passages might usefully have been re-taken which can compromise Lloyd-Joness instinctive and perceptive response to the music. Once past a gently lolling Venus and quick-witted Mercury, a particular highlight, Jupiter is somewhat disappointing in its heaviness, the big tune somewhat matter-of-fact.
The ravages of time are tellingly conveyed in Saturn, its climax hampered by virtually inaudible tubular bells; the organs pedal-point at the close is reticent and its glissando in Uranus is more a wash than definite figuration. Here, percussion lacks definition, which is a shame because the performance has real spirit. The cooler climes of Neptune are registered a little too distantly although the off-stage choir is well judged in its heavenly perspective and so to Pluto.
The addition of The Mystic Trumpeter, Holsts setting of Walt Whitman, is a significant extra. This, one of Holsts rarest pieces, is anything but slight, 18 minutes in this performance. As Colin Matthews writes in his note: The several influences notably that of Wagner, are welded by Holsts passionate feeling for the words into an integrated and convincing whole . The Mystic Trumpeter is an atmospheric piece that exudes a sense of enchantment, an extended lyrical scena with rapturous climaxes. If it lacks true distinction, it is easy to place modal expression looks to Vaughan Williams and Holst presages VWs A Sea Symphony (also setting Whitman) by a few years. Its an intriguing piece, sung with fervour and accuracy by Claire Rutter, and hopefully the appeal of The Planets will bring it a wider audience.