Holst • Elgar
Holst: The Planets; Elgar: Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Mike Batt
Guild GMCD 7814 59:14 mins
With recordings of The Planets easily available from Simon Rattle, Adrian Boult, and Herbert von Karajan to Gustav Holst himself, one may wonder why any punter, curio hunters apart, would seek out one conducted by the man who discovered singer Katie Melua and concocted the Wombles pop act. Though certainly a lively music-maker and impresario, Mike Batt is rarely encountered conducting straight classical music.
Four selections from the present album, which bears no direct connection to Batt’s short-lived crossover band The Planets, appeared in the popular children’s magazine partwork The Magical Music Box in 1993. Twenty-five years later, we finally get the complete recording, plus a dutiful Pomp & Circumstance March No. 1 filler, courtesy of Elgar. The performance is itself efficient without being compelling, though there is some spirited playing from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – I especially appreciated the brass growl near the end of ‘Mercury’. But you always feel that Batt is riding on the music’s surface. The sound and acoustic (of Watford Town Hall) are not ideal; there are blowsy fortissimos and a clarity shortage that leaves even the quieter planets veiled by clouds.