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THE PLANETS/ALSO SPRACH

Steinberg/Boston Symphony Orchestra Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
Price: CDN$ 16.50 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details
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1. Also sprach Zarathustra Op. 30 - Boston SO/Steinberg
2. The Planets Op. 32 - Boston SO/Steinberg

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Steinberg's tenure at the helm of the Boston Symphony was cut short by illness, but his relatively slim catalogue of recordings with the orchestra produced several important examples of his art, boasting truly fine interpretations and spectacular playing. These orchestral showpieces by Strauss and Holst were long overdue for reissue. Steinberg's fast tempos make the Strauss work zip by; it's as if he takes it in one big gulp, creating as exciting a performance as you're likely to hear. The Holst also gets the "let's keep it moving" treatment to good effect, though a more measured pace for the opening movement, "Mars," would bring a greater sense of menace. As on many DGs recorded around 1970-1971, the engineering is bright and bass-shy, but it's clear and detailed, too. --Dan Davis

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Format:Audio CD
Among recommended recordings of Also Sprach Zarathrustra by Richard Strauss, this is one seldom mentioned. Before this recording, I listened to Tennstedt, Reiner (1964) and Karajan and only this recording blows me away. Listening it in my car, living room stereo, or even through my Discman, this recording is exciting. There is lush lyricism, massive voices and fiery passion, despite the speed of this recording that could turn off seasoned Straussians. The famous introduction has the best organ chord at the end, I think largely due to the accoustics of Boston Symphony Hall, one of the best in the world. The strings surprisingly has Viennese nuances and the highlight is Joseph Silverstein's solo performance, which is a delight to listen to and my favorite *concertmaster* violinist. The recording has sardonical wit and humor that all Zarathrustra recordings I hear lacked.
The Planets, no need to for me to add, is a reference performance, although "Jupiter" for me is too dry and lacked the excitement of Boult and Rattle has. Sadly there are too few of Steinberg's recordings with Boston Symphony and they're finished when Ozawa took over. Can James Levine bring them back to the former glory of kouzzevetsky, Munch or Steinberg?
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Format:Audio CD
This really is one of the best "Planets" I've ever heard, if not THE best. The transition from the cruel, marching onslought of Mars, to the lush, welcoming orchestral sweetness and warmth of Venus is the most touching bridge you can hear placed between such opposing musical ideas. And the other movements continue to bring the listener further and further inward. The music really is astounding. The only thing that I really don't understand here is why Steinberg chose to be so sloppy with his Mars tempos. In fact, Mars is the only section here that really bothers me. It doesn't pack the usual emotional weight, because you don't get the subtle undertones of fear and dread in the build-up. In fact, there are moments when the orchestra sounds completely arrhythmic, like they themselves don't know where they should be at the moment. I don't understand those reviewers who say that a faster Mars makes for a more exciting Mars. I couldn't disagree more, but that's just my opinion. Still, it's a wonderful piece of music, and a great recording despite its flaws. Jupiter (my personal favorite movement of the piece) truly is played with jollity. I almost imagine a drunken, giddy banquet, interspersed with brief moments of solemnity and brotherhood. Saturn truly creaks and wheezes with the rheumatism and meandering sentiment of old age. Uranus sizzles with magical meanness and mischief, and Neptune sparkles with mysterious promise, beckoning us from the depths of the unknown. Plus, a wonderful placement of Richard Strauss' "Thus Spake Zarathustra" rounds out the package, making this disc choc-full of content at over seventy-five minutes long! How much more star-gazing could you ask for? The Planets were truly in allignment when Steinberg recorded this one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Out of this world July 26 2003
Format:Audio CD
Linked by their associations with "outer space" (an association forced on Strauss' "Also sprach Zarathustra" by its use in "2001: A Space Odyssey), these two showpieces for orchestra have kept company on CD (and cassette) before. For example, there's a Double Decca two-fer with Zubin Mehta conducting the L.A. Philharmonic in audiophile-quality recordings from the early '70s. But as far as I know this DG Originals reissue is the only single-CD set combining both works. One reason it's not done more often is that "Zarathustra" generally comes in at 33-35 minutes and Holst's "The Planets" usually runs 48-51 minutes, for a total playing time that's too long for one CD. William Steinberg's fastish tempi make this coupling possible--his 29:56 for "Zarathustra" may be the swiftest on record, and "The Planets" comes in at about 46 minutes here. However, such was this underrated, under-recorded conductor's natural sense of flow that nothing sounds rushed or glided over. He takes to "The Planets," a work he apparently learned only just prior to making this recording, with as little apparent effort as he does to the Strauss tone poem that had certainly been a part of his repertoire for decades. Not to mince words, this is a disc to treasure, even if you already have other recordings of both works. If you don't, you may decide you're set for life with this CD.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A thirty-year-old treasure. Nov. 27 2001
Format:Audio CD
If you've followed the fortunes of the Boston Symphony Orchestra only casually, then you'll probably be thinking that, over the last half-century, this orchestra has had only two music directors: Charles Munch, followed by Seiji Ozawa. (If you were to go back yet another quarter-century, you'd throw in the name of Serge Koussevitsky.) But there was a decade, from the early 60's to the early 70's, when the BSO was led first by Erich Leinsdorf, a fine opera conductor whose strengths did not translate particularly well to the concert stage, and then by William Steinberg, who led it all too briefly for a few years (1969 - 1972). Regrettably, Steinberg made only a handful of recordings with the BSO, and this was probably his finest.
For me, Steinberg will best be remembered for his traversal of the Brahms symphonies on Enoch Light's Command Classics label, and for this Boston recording of Gustav Holst's "The Planets." Long a favorite piece of British music for me, I believe I've owned (or at least heard) all of the recorded performances by Sir Adrian Boult (long considered the "owner" of this work), as well as critically-acclaimed recordings by Bernard Hermann, Andre Previn, Sir Malcom Sargent and Leopold Stokowski. But this Steinberg performance immediately went to the top of my list when it first came out on LP thirty years ago. It has also been critically acclaimed by that all-too-British publication, the Penguin Guide, which seldom holds American recordings of British music in such high esteem, particularly when every British conductor of any merit whatsoever has recorded this work.
Now, with its reissuance as part of DGG's "The Originals" series, Steinberg's performance is back up there, on the top of my list, getting its fair amount of playing time.
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