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GUSTAV HOLST - THE PLANETS - JOHN ELIOT GARDINER (Conductor) - PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA - 028944586022 - Deutsche Grammophon 445860

The magic of The Planets lies in it's orchestration. The subject matter in itself regarding the astrological and mythological meaning of the planets is captivating, the music written to paint a tone picture of each planet is amazing, but it's the choice of orchestration for texture, colour and mood of each planet, that is truly awesome in this 20th century work of genius.

The unrelenting snare drum in Mars, The Bringer of War. The peace and comfort of a child being rocked in a cradle, conveyed by the lush strings in Venus, The Bringer of Peace. The swift and nimble woodwinds orbiting at great speeds and quickly vanishing behind the sun in Mercury, The Winged Messenger. The bold brass and bright cymbals in Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity. The female choir sounding isolated, distant, cold, drifting away in the darkness of Neptune, The Mystic.

Holst not only knew the expressive power of individual instruments, he was also great at combining different instruments and creating astounding effects. Take Saturn, The Bringer of Old Age for example. At the end, after the music has steadily marched along to the incessant rhythm of the passage of time, using a combination of strings, harp, tubular bells and extremely low pipe organ pedal notes, Holst not only conveys the transfiguration of life here, but also the vision of a massive planet, rotating effortlessly and glowing against the blackness of deep space. A stroke of genius!

This recording under Gardiner brings all the qualities of the score to the forefront. I have heard many, many recordings of The Planets, and of course, some have more menacing interpretations of Mars, or Jupiters with more circumstance and a more devilish Uranus, but as far as orchestral sparkle, depth and body is concerned, no one even comes close. You might even need a special permit if you plan on playing it using a powerful subwoofer.

Jean-Yves Duperron