Gustav Holst - The Planets

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GUSTAV HOLST - The Planets - Organ transcription by Peter Sykes - Hansjörg Albrecht (Organ) - Hybrid SACD - 4260034866836 - Released: January 2012 - Oehms Classics OC683

The Planets by Gustav Holst are well known and understood, in most peoples musical memories. They are part of popular culture of movies and television. This makes it very difficult to do a successful transcription. The orchestral version has enormous tone color and dynamics.

It is sad to say that the word transcription has taken on a kind of aura of counterfeit, something that is not quite good enough. At times that may be fitting. In this case it most surely is not.

A transcription is designed to convey the original music in a manner that is both new and accessible. A successful transcription makes you forget that you are listening to a different version and you enjoy the music for what it is.

There is a most interesting background to the Planets by Holst. The orchestral version is for an augmented orchestra including a pipe organ to provide wonderful gravitas. Holst's version is itself a transcription from the two piano original. So in a way this organ version is going back to it's roots. A keyboard instrument capable of conveying the musical ideas of a great tone poem.

So what sets this recording and performance apart?

This performance goes head to head with the orchestral version and in many ways meets and exceeds it.

A combination of wonderful talents and choices, Hansjörg Albrecht is in the same category as Stokowski. An organist, a conductor, a choral conductor, a harpsichordist and a choir director. A real musician's musician. Hansjörg commands his organ as one who is conducting an orchestra. There is thoughtful conveyance of the spirit of the music rather than the pressing of the correct key at the correct time. The pacing and dynamics are most enjoyable to listen to. The attention to details in the tone colors and the registration of the manuals are a sonic delight.

This version of the Planets is most engaging. A treat for the ears that is very rare. The recording is top notch, the miking is simply stunning in it's ability to convey both the delicacy and the power present during this performance. To say that this is a workout for your stereo is by far an understatement.

I must mention the choice in instrument. It is the Kleuker Organ in St. Nikolai, Kiel. As with most of Hansjörg's recordings, he chose this magnificent piece of acoustical engineering. It is not the largest of organs, being 65 ranks, but it is one of the most varied and colorful organs I can ever remember having the joy of listening to. There are the most wonderfully sweet tones, pounding reeds (I do mean pounding! Watch your initial volume setting), trumpets en chamade, that spit fire and sulphur! A wonderful 32' Fagott that is akin to a tuned jackhammer. A sneaky Untersatz that underpins the bass line with authority that just begs to be heard at concert volume. Neptune's part with the women's choir is duplicated with great delicacy and thoughtfulness. Jupiter is rollicking fun to listen to. Mercury has it's moments too, you think it's a little slow at the beginning but it works. Uranus and Saturn are setup in such a way that you are taken aback, they have the boldness of the brass section and the open voice, the clear string sound that you have with the orchestral version. Mix in the power and the grandeur that only a great pipe organ can create and you are getting an idea that this is a reference quality recording.

Both my thumbs up, and if you include Jean-Yves' opinion, a four thumb recording.

This is something you have to hear to understand how great it really is.

Mark Kravchenko - March 2012