HOLST: The Planets; BRITTEN: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell, Op. 34 – Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra/Paavo Jarvi, conductor – Telarc 80743, 70:00 ***:
The Britten is a re-release and is not competitive. Though called on the cover The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, the official title without the narration (as this one is) remains Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell. Jarvi’s rhythms are flabby and without definition, the textures misbalanced (especially the entrance of the trumpet in the fugue when the final great theme makes its appearance, overshadowed by the trombone and completely missing the dramatic thrust of the moment), and there is no sense of continuity among movements. Britten’s own recording remains the standard, though Malcolm Sargent’s old EMI reading is still one of the best interpretations around, not currently offered on CD. This one seems a noble effort gone awry.
Things improve somewhat with the Holst. Telarc already has a spectacular release in DTS sound with Yoel Levi’s Atlanta Symphony reading, one of the best available in certainly the most wide-ranging sound, and this Cincinnati recording, despite the excellence of the playing, cannot compete with Bernstein, Mehta, Steinberg, and a host of others. His “Mars” starts way too fast, completely missing the ominous and even creepy nature of the music; instead we get an army of rapid soldiers who blow through before we are aware they are even here. The slower pieces fare the best—the Cincinnati players are surely some of the finest in the country, and the soft and pliable nature of the strings coupled with equally adept woodwinds make them capable of performing the most delicate passages with absolute perfection. “Jupiter” isn’t bad either, though I question a couple of the tempo relationships among sections, and the last chord curiously lacks the punch I was expecting.
But this is not an easily dismissible Planets by any means, and it will bring much pleasure as a second recording in anyone’s collection. Telarc’s sound is deep and broad with a lot of resonance, though it does not displace the Atlanta. Your call! [This would be a natural for later release as a SACD if Telarc’s previous policy were continued, but I cannot get confirmation on that from any quarter…Ed.]
— Steven Ritter