HOLST: The Planets; R. STRAUSS: Also sprach Zarathustra – National Youth Orch. of Great Britain; CBSO Youth Chor./ Edward Gardner – Chandos multichannel SACD Chan 5179, 79:53 (2/17/17) ****:

A fresh look at two popular works, in a superb, life-like recording.

One is never quite sure what to expect when one hears a ‘youth orchestra’. Often it’s effort over musical proficiency. Not so in this new thrilling recording from Chandos, which features The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain and the CBSO Youth Chorus, under the baton of Edward Gardner.

The disc contains fine renditions of Also sprach Zarathustra and The Planets by Gustav Holst. You might say it is a ‘space age pairing’ because the Strauss has been permanently branded as sci-fi music due to its inclusion in 2001- A Space Odyssey.

The Strauss opens with a very deep bass of the C Major chord from a pipe organ, and as the opening unfolds the sound is excellent, as good a Zarathustra as I’ve heard in terms of audio quality.

With all that praise, I have to say the Holst is even better. It’s an exciting and detailed performance of The Planets, and the young players negotiate this difficult piece with professional sounding results. The chorus also sounds full and masterful. The audio quality in the 5.1 SACD is peerless, with a very solid low end and very realistic strings. Both works on the disc use the surrounds for hall ambiance, and the sound of Symphony Hall in Birmingham is really exceptional.

Most of our readers will have these works already in their collection, perhaps on multiple discs with different orchestras. Still, this disc is worth a listen. The approach to these two warhorses is quite unique without being eccentric, and the sound is really of demonstration quality. I find no fault with the playing of the youth orchestra and chorus and Edward Gardner is in fine form interpreting these great works.

—Mel Martin