Holst: The Planets

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

WORKS: The Planets
PERFORMER: LSO & Chorus/Colin Davis
Some works aren’t really susceptible to ‘interpretation’: in The Planets there’s not much leeway for expressive manipulation – except possibly in ‘Venus’, which, as David Matthews points out in his note, harks back to a style of Romantic music that Holst was about to leave behind. So what do you need from a performance? Orchestral virtuosity, which the LSO certainly has; a good judgement of tempo, which Davis mostly has, though I do find his fast speed for ‘Mars’ pares away the relentlessness which is the whole point of the piece. On the other hand, he doesn’t turn ‘Mercury’ into a scramble, and ‘Uranus’ has time to work its magic. He makes the most of the expressive curves of ‘Venus’, with some luscious string playing, as well as capturing the coldness and distance of ‘Neptune’, with a beautifully disembodied choir. Best of all is ‘Saturn’, where Davis keeps the tempo under iron control throughout – this really is the inexorable tread of the bringer of old age. So what’s the problem? Well, it’s the Barbican – despite the acoustic improvements there and the expert recording skills of producer James Mallinson and engineer Tony Faulkner, it still sounds like a cardboard box, with no bloom on the strings and no space for the climaxes to fill. There are plenty of better recorded Planets out there – at this price I’d go for the other Davis, Andrew, with the BBC SO, also recorded by Faulkner, but in a more generous, caring acoustic. And you get Egdon Heath as well. Martin Cotton