HOLST: The Planets – London Sym. Orch. and Chorus/ André Previn – Hi-Q Records HIQXRCD 3, 51:00 ****:
Gustav Holst is almost a one-hit wonder. The Planets has generated multiple recordings and even performances in the USA. Through no fault of his own, Holst’s other compositions have received short shrift from record companies, or in concert halls, unless they are British. Holst did compose other works of considerable musical interest. Just look him up on the Internet.
The Planets is scored for a large orchestra. Holst was influenced by British folk-songs, Wagner, Richard Strauss, Rimsky-Korsakov and Stravinsky. British composer Vaughan Williams was also an influence and he said of The Planets that it reflected the two sides of Holst’s essence, the melodic and the mystic.
From the militant Mars opening to the pianissimo Neptune closing with its subtle, yet powerful fragmentation, The Planets covers seven planets. There is no Earth movement and Pluto was not yet discovered when this work was written before and during World War I. In 2000, Colin Mathews did write an add-on Pluto, but subsequently Pluto was down-graded to something less than a planet.
Holst himself recorded The Planets acoustically in 1925 and electrically in 1926. It was Sir Adrian Boult’s 1945 version for the His Master’s Voice (HMV) label (forerunner of EMI) that was considered remarkable for its sound quality at that time. Among many other recordings, the 1973 Previn London Symphony version for EMI (here under consideration) was considered exceptional and is still highly respected both musically and for its sound.
Hi-Q Records made a good choice with this release. They have remastered the recording through JVC’s XRCD24 bit process. The result is what used to be called a “hot” disc in LP terminology, meaning it is very loud. What this process has done to the sterling original by Recording Producer Christopher Bishop and Recording Engineer Christopher Parker is to widen the dynamic range and goose up the bass. The wonderful ambient sound of Kingsway Hall, London, where the recording was taped, still remains with the recording.
Considering the price, I can’t recommend this particular issue though, unless you have up-to-date lease-breaking speakers, especially your sub-woofer(s), and attendant amplification to power them, in order to get the full effect of this remastering.
There are other less expensive choices without the effect of the XRCD24 mastering, such as the original Previn on EMI Classics and Boult’s 1979 (the original CD issue on EMI Classics CDM 7 69045 2 only) and Charles Dutoit’s on Decca. But if you have the reproducing equipment that meets highest standards, this Hi-Q issue is really overwhelming.