WORKS: The Planets
PERFORMER: Monteverdi Choir, Philharmonia Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: 445 860-2 DDD
These two astonishing masterpieces make an apt coupling. One has become a popular classic, the other has languished in comparative obscurity, but a strong thread links them. They were both finished during the First World War by composers who had drawn vital benefit from the generous patronage of Balfour Gardiner, great uncle of the present conductor, which completes an intriguing artistic circle.
Recordings of The Warriors have been infrequent, and this colourful and exuberant rendering of Grainger’s tintinnabulating inspiration is most welcome. ‘Good taste’, one of the composer’s great enemies, is gloriously transcended in the ballet’s exhilarating mixture of legendary power and populist melody, while the visionary clash of on- and off-stage music in the middle of the piece possesses an Ivesian daring. That particular section is not ideally balanced by Gardiner and his engineers, but elsewhere there is vivacious playing, brightly recorded.
Gardiner’s account of The Planets is less satisfactory, despite much orchestral brilliance from the Philharmonia. The violence of expression in ‘Mars’ sometimes prevents textural clarity. ‘Venus’ is hasty and rhythmically articulated in a way that denies the music’s floating quality. ‘Mercury’ is not always entirely secure, and ‘Jupiter’, although exhibiting the orchestra’s virtuosity, is rather heedlessly driven. The later movements show a marked improvement, but this is an uneven interpretation. Anthony Payne