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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
An Aged Authority's Unique Insights, Though Hardly "Definitive"Feb. 14 2010
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By my recollection, this was the first CD incarnation of Sir Adrian Boult's late 70's recording of the work to which he's inexorably tied by reputation, the last of something like five recordings he'd made of it since conducting its world premiere in a hastily arranged private performance during the waning weeks of World War I. This recording's seeming cult status is probably justified by virtue of the authority present on the podium; indeed, many unique and felicitous insights are heard throughout. However, orchestral execution is definitely not of the highest order -- especially, right off in the slow, ominous Mars are plainly heard a few ensemble flubs one would think have necessitated a retake.
Where the unique magic of this performance is clearly felt, however, is in the near-nonagenarian Boult's measured and glitteringly phrased Venus, his sprightly and elusive Mercury, and to these ears, a most cogently rendered Saturn that gives this often enigmatic "Bringer of Old Age" a significance and import not heard before nor since. Uranus, too, is a beneficiary of Boult's insights in a deliberately phrased rendering that packs the most broad dynamic variances to be heard in the entire suite, including its loudest fortissimi...there's no mistaking it! One ultimately gets the feeling here that the usual sonic showpieces of Mars and Jupiter are mere cogs in this celestial sphere.
EMI later re-released this as one of its series of Great Recordings of the Century (Enigma Variations / Planets). While I think the designation is dubious, fans of The Planets owe it to themselves to eventually hear this, perhaps along with Bernard Haitink's earlier, more exquisitely played and recorded version with the same orchestra (Planets) -- both are anything but prosaic.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Well, I'll go for "definite"Feb. 25 2010
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I admit to having a soft spot for Karajan's unusual take on The Planets, but compared to Boult there really is no competition. In fact, as far as I know, no one has really come close to realizing the urgency, vitality and shimmering beauties of this score in manners to rival his (apart from himself in earlier recordings of the work). And it's obvious from the very beginning - Mars is simply blood-curdling; sinister and minatory and mercilessly violent. In comparison, Venus is as stirringly serene and beautiful as they come - it's hard to pinpoint exactly what Boult does that no one else to my knowledge manage to do, apart from the wonderful sounds he draws from the Londoners, but the music seems to acquire a depth and a range of almost otherworldly atmospheres (obviously rather fitting) that you never quite hear elsewhere. It is as if all other performances end up sounding earth-bound and mundane in comparison.
Mercury is utterly magical (though for once the playing might just sound a tad untidy, but mostly, I guess, as a consequence of Boult's - convincing - breakneck speed) and Jupiter displays unmatched muscularity and dynamism and breadth; utterly magnificent, and shaped like one long arch culminating in a thrilling close (and the stirring big tune is a part of that big accumulation of magnificence rather than the culmination itself). Saturn is stirring and smoldering, and the climax tremendously powerful, making the mysterious tranquility of the ending all the more effective. And the success of this performance continues with a marvelous Uranus of swagger, glitter, orchestral wizardry and earth-rattling power, and culminates in a Neptune whose icy, otherworldly mysticism cannot possibly have been surpassed, ever. The sound quality is vivid, detailed and well-balanced. A benchmark recording if there ever was one.