The Planets (Two-Piano Version)/ Gustav Holst

May 29, 2011

My selection for the Delos/Facet (8002) recording for May 2011 is a work  that is available seventy four times on CD (Delos DE 3225 Dallas Space Spectacular is one) but seldom recorded the way you’ll hear it on this CD. The Planets, written in the 1914-1916 time period and first performed in 1918 by Sir Adrian Boult is one of the most popular works in the classical catalog and is listed on many top 100 lists. Gustav Holst studied astrology and as a result it became his “pet vice” throughout his life. He loved to do horoscopes for people. This recording for duo-pianists is the way the composer originally created the astrological work except Neptune which was written for organ. However, Holst never intended the classical listener to hear it in this fashion.  A common misconception is that it was astronomical. If that were the case earth would have been included. Pluto had yet to be discovered so it isn’t included. Another misconception is that Mars was written because of the start of World War I when it had in fact already been planned out previously.

One of the performing pianists, Richard Rodney Bennett (1936- ) is a fine composer in his own right having written Oscar nominated scores to Murder on the Orient Express, Far From the Madding Crown, and Nicholas and Alexandra. The other pianist Susan Bradshaw (1931-2005) was involved in the Piotr Zak hoax in 1961, which came to national attention. Susan was a teacher and spent time studying under Pierre Boulez.

Before you listen to this recording you owe it to yourself to hear the orchestral version. The Delos recording with Andrew Litton conducting the Dallas Symphony Orchestra is well played, recorded, and also includes a second disc of “Also Sprach Zarathustra,” making this an excellent value. Once you hear the orchestral arrangement it is much easier to understand the piano version. “Mars” has never felt like a war movement to me but more in the way of tension and anticipation; waiting for something to happen. There is a lot of rhythm pounded out on the piano. “Venus” is a movement of peace and tranquility and the delicacy of the two pianos shows the beauty of this section. “Mercury” is a study of scales in a scherzo that don’t seem to come together but in fact do. “Jupiter” with the English folk influence is a miniature symphony within this work. “Saturn” is reflective in nature. Uranus is quite complex filled with a lot of chords and glissando sections. Neptune is so peaceful it is one I could easily go to sleep to at night.  Easily this movement is one that requires the orchestra the least. By spending some time with this you can grow to appreciate the beauty of this magnificent work even more.

Track Listing:

1…. Mars (7:03)

2…. Venus (8:23)

3…. Mercury (4:16)

4…. Jupiter (8:12)

5…. Saturn (9:09)

6…. Uranus (6:08)

7…. Neptune (7:44)

Total Playing Time: 51:27

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