The Mystic Trumpeter*
Pluto, The Renewer
Claire Rutter (soprano)*
Ladies of the RSNO Chorus
Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by David Lloyd-Jones
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2002
CD No: NAXOS 8.555776
This perceptive rendition of the Planets includes Colin Matthews’s controversial extension. Hyperion first recorded Pluto and offers Holst’s ultimate movement, ’Neptune’, as a separate track – effectively a choice between Holst’s Planets with or without Pluto. Given Matthews’s high-lying violin line steals into the close of ’Neptune’, Naxos has no such option: here is The Planets from Holst and Matthews.
It’ll 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 Matthews’s 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 there’s no doubting his integral undertaking of Kent Nagano’s 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 Elder’s 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-Jones’s 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 organ’s 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, Holst’s setting of Walt Whitman, is a significant ’extra’. This, one of Holst’s 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 Holst’s 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 VW’s A Sea Symphony (also setting Whitman) by a few years. It’s an intriguing piece, sung with fervour and accuracy by Claire Rutter, and hopefully the appeal of The Planets will bring it a wider audience.