Holst: The Planets (arr. piano duet),

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Black Box
WORKS: The Planets (arr. piano duet),
PERFORMER: York2 (piano duo)
Holst’s brilliant, often innovatory orchestration is such an important aspect of the impact of The Planets that you’d imagine it couldn’t possibly work on the piano – that an arrangement like this would be a ‘reduction’ in both senses of the word. Well, if this performance wasn’t so convincing, that might have been my verdict. Granted, there are one or two passages where the lack of varied colour or sustaining power robs the music of some of its sense – the solo wind exchanges near the start of ‘Saturn’, for instance – and ‘Neptune’ does suffer from the absence of voices, especially the long-held high soprano G at the heart of the movement. But it’s surprising how much of it really does work. Fiona and John York must take a lot of the credit. They handle the long, elemental build-ups in ‘Mars’ and ‘Uranus’ with tremendous force and control, while the glittering, rippling textures of ‘Saturn’’s long coda are exquisite. There are even places where the piano brings gains – textures, and particularly harmonies are more clearly focused. The recording is first-rate – the kind of sound you might get sitting close to the piano: clear, intimate, but warm and not too percussive. The other four-hand pieces are on the whole much slighter, but in their way they testify just as effectively to Holst’s imaginative and technical genius. Recommended. Stephen Johnson