Andrew Davis conducts The Planets [Chandos]

0 of 5 stars

Holst
Beni Mora – Oriental Suite, Op.29/1
Japanese Suite, Op.33
The Planets – Suite for large orchestra, Op.32

Manchester Chamber Choir (Ladies voices)

BBC Philharmonic
Sir Andrew Davis

Recorded 24 & 25 June 2010 in The Bridgewater Hall, Manchester


Reviewed by: Mike Langhorne

Reviewed: February 2011
CD No: CHANDOS CHSA 5086
Duration: 78 minutes

Amazon currently lists 70-odd recordings (I lost count after this) of The Planets, and this one from Chandos (issued in February 2011) follows hard on the heels of Vladimir Jurowski’s LPO recording and the re-issue on Eloquence of Bernard Herrmann’s Decca Phase 4 version. Sir Andrew Davis’s third version of The Planets has two particular features that mark it out: a superb recording – rich, weighty and clear – and two generous fillers, which precede The Planets on the disc.

Despite the stunning sound there are problems with tempo and rhythmic articulation. Speeds are not particularly slow but there are moments when the music loses momentum and springiness. Perhaps a little middle-aged compared with the younger Jurowski, the latter quite rightly choosing speeds closer to those of the composer’s second recording and approaching the score from a perspective uncluttered by tradition. Davis’s interpretation is basically the traditional English one, broad and hefty and somewhat dull. ‘Mars’ lacks menace despite the thrilling sound and ‘Jupiter’ fails to take wing – the hymn tune rather solemn. Listen to Handley, Boult or Sargent to hear the difference. ‘Venus’ and ‘Mercury’ come off better but again with some stiffness. ‘Saturn’ is a success; the inevitability of mortality is well conveyed in the crescendo to the climax and the recording copes superbly with the tolling bells over the rest of the orchestra. ‘Uranus’, again a sonic showpiece, is impressive with stunning timpani at the opening and deep organ notes at the conclusion. ‘Neptune’ slips into nothingness notably – rather better than Jurowski’s, which just stops. Of less-elderly issues, Simon Rattle (his Berlin version, EMI) is too plush but Mark Elder (Hyperion) is worth considering and which adds Colin Matthew’s Pluto (which, as a planet, has since been downgraded).

Both Beni Mora and Japanese Suite are handsome makeweights and are nicely done. The former dates from 1908, the result of a trip Holst made to Algeria. There are a few other recordings; Boult’s on Lyrita finds a bit more character, Sargent’s (coupled with his Planets) is much faster and winds itself up into fine old frenzy in the last movement. David Lloyd-Jones also provides a fine version on Naxos with a good selection of shorter Holst pieces. The Japanese Suite is rather less-well-known and only Boult offers an alternative, Lyrita again. Written contemporaneously with the Planets it was intended as music for the Japanese dancer Ito. It’s not particularly Japanese – six short pieces of which ‘Dance under the Cherry Tree’ is especially charming.

So, for The Planets, if you want a thrilling recording of a middle-of-the-road performance, this could be for you. Throughout, the BBC Philharmonic plays well; and the ladies of the chorus sing in tune and manage their disappearing act in ‘Neptune’ with aplomb.

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