RPO on iTunes

0 of 5 stars

The Planets – Suite for large orchestra, Op.32
Belshazzar’s Feast

Sir Thomas Allen (baritone)

London Symphony Chorus
Brighton Festival Chorus

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Leonard Slatkin

Recorded on 1 November 2007 in the Royal Albert Hall, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2007
CD No: Available through iTunes
Duration: 49 minutes [The Planets]
35 minutes [Belshazzar’s Feast]

A good idea this – to record a concert and then make it downloadable through iTunes soon after the event. Full marks to the enterprise and also in the way it has been carried through. From CD copies supplied, I am impressed by the recording quality – at first, in The Planets, the orchestra close and tangible (violins helpfully antiphonal and double basses placed to the left) but later given more of the space (no pun!) and depth associated with the Royal Albert Hall; always, though, the reproduction is clear and focussed even if the dynamic range is not of the widest.

I imagine that a Planet of your choice – as well as the whole work, of course – can be downloaded, and it seems – given the single track afforded it – that Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast” is only available complete, which is probably as it should be given it is a thought-through masterpiece of vivid story-telling.

Gratifyingly, although opinions may be divided on this, the irritating applause that greeted most of movements of The Planets has been removed – some smart editing and added reverb would have been needed – and while some might argue that the concert should be left ‘as was’, this well-done attempt to make a finished product shows both professionalism for making the performances available and for satisfying critical listeners.

Leonard Slatkin’s devotion to British music has been a staple of his activities over the years and he has commercially recorded both these great works. These concert-performances, of The Planets and “Belshazzar’s Feast”, both of thrills and spills, now have a lively edge that wasn’t always evident in the Royal Albert Hall itself. As recorded, one can hear details missed then without losing the vitality of a real performance. The Planets is given a concentrated and colourful outing, deft and sensitive and rambunctious and ethereal; the off-stage ladies’ voices at the close especially successful in the fade-out and suspense – applause is even jettisoned here although there is a case for having retained it. I suspect, too, from memory, possibly fallible, that the silence is longer than at the concert and that a rehearsal take has been slotted into the opening of ‘Uranus’, which at the time cut into applause. Whatever, fond memories of the event are stirred and a fine account of Holst’s best-known work is enjoyably preserved.

The Walton is even finer – it really caught the air in the Hall, a performance of terrific impact, the large and enthusiastic choruses filling the Hall’s space and Walton’s brilliant orchestration was let off the leash, Thomas Allen an inviting, always-musical and word-relishing narrator. Heard again, this spontaneous and thrilling account (applause retained) – the emphasis very much on drama – with antiphonal brass bands, plentiful percussion and an almighty shout of “Slain!” comes to life. Through whichever-available means you wish to acquire these recordings and listen to them, do give the enterprise a go. The link below takes you straight in.

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