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The Planets [Enhanced]

SIR SIMON RATTLE Audio CD

Price: CDN$ 18.28 & FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25. Details
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Disc: 1
1. I. Mars, the Bringer of War (Allegro)
2. II. Venus, the Bringer of Peace (Adagio)
3. III. Mercury, the Winged Messenger (Vivace)
4. IV. Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity (Allegro giocoso)
5. V. Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age (Adagio)
6. VI. Uranus, the Magician (Allegro)
7. VII. Neptune, the Mystic (Andante) [with women's choir]
8. Pluto, The Renewer
Disc: 2
1. The Making of the Planets and Asteroids
2. towards Osiris
3. Ceres
4. Komarov's Fall

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy musical view of space that eschews bombast April 23 2007
By Larry VanDeSande - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
This recording will forever be remembered as the commodity that arrived simultanous with Pluto being decertified as a planet in 2006. It appears this was more happenstance than providence or marketing plan by DG since Simon Rattle's notes indicate he made these concert recordings after not conducting "The Planets" for more than 20 years. His notes also indicate his desire to include the second recording of Colin Matthews' "Pluto".

This concert (some call it "live") recording of "The Planets" strikes me as geared more to musical values than bombast, perhaps being more studied than necessary, and/or executed more for refinement than grandiloquence. Whichever one you subscribe to, I think you get the point -- this recording won't compete with those that go for broke boastfully and/or emotionally but it works on the same level as Claudio Abbado's famous Vienna Philharmonic version of Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony: it makes music where many others make noise.

My personal favorite recording of "The Planets" is Adrian Boult's 1950s-era mono recording with the London Philharmonic (then called the Promenade Philharmonic) that once arrived on a $1.99 Westminster LP and was wretchedly engineered in fake stereo. That recording is still available in good mono via a Haydn House burn of pretty good quality, made from the LP where you can still hear an occasional rough patch of the needle.

Where Rattle's 2006 recording sets a somewhat stodgy pace so you can hear every instrument and every turn of the score, Boult's old recording goes full speed ahead with the largest possible voice most of the time, made from an aural perspective at the podium. The two recordings do not actually compete with each other; I find each has qualities I enjoy. I like Rattle's new version as a modern alternative. It is well-recorded in a dimension of clarity in league with Rattle's earlier recording of Mahler's "Symphony of the Thousand".

In addition, I find Rattle's toned down version far more palatable than the last modern recording of "The Planets" I listened to, the inadequate, impersonal and shallow version by John Gardiner, also on DG and billed as a stereo spectacular, that is mated to Percy Grainger's noisy "The Warriors". The only thing spectacular about Gardiner's version is how loud the band can play without saying anything. It seems incredible to me someone of Gardiner's stature would record a warhorse like "The Planets" without having any perspective on the music.

Back to this version...the disc 2 rarities, "Asteroid 4179: Toutatis", "Towards Osiris", "Ceres" and "Komarov's Fall", all sound like 1950s serial compositions to me. They add something to the overall project, and are interesting to talk about, but none seem to have much appeal on their own. Only the final "Komarov's Fall" seems really to have a beginning, middle and end. The other remind me of the stuff I used to hear on my PBS station's Friday night "Music from the Heart of Space" series. The second disk also carries a DVD on the making of "The Planets" I haven't witnessed.

So, all things considered, I think this is a good bargain for Amazon shoppers looking for a modern recording of "The Planets". When I wrote this there were a half-dozen vendors selling it used for less than $10. Unless you are really sold on cellophane, getting this two-CD 2006 production for $6.15 -- as one vendor is offering today -- is a good buy regardless of how many issues of "The Planets" you have hanging around your house.
21 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Space Junk Sept. 27 2006
By Mark Shanks - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Rattle disappoints in a perfunctory reading of one of the most familar of concert warhorses. Mars is a bit "oogie-boogie" scary, not terrifying. Venus sulks in a warm bath of ultra-rubato. Rattle himself seems slightly embarrassed by the great central hymn of Jupiter, calling it "a nostalgic look at an England that never existed - the England of cricket fields and warm beer and bad cooking". Well, then - guess that shows US. But the most egregrious offense is cobbling together unwanted bits to, in Rattle's own words, "make a calling card for the orchestra". (Wow, that's ego for you! The Berlin Philharmonic needs a "calling card", and this dweeb is the guy to give it to them? Oh, brother!!!!) It's really just make-work for a group of completely unrelated compositional styles and the results are underwhelming in the extreme. It's bad enough that Pluto has been "downgraded" from planetary status - it now has to suffer the insult of being tagged "The Renewer" (for entirely obscure reasons) and having a tacky, alternately whispy and annoying six-minute noise-bomb associated with it. (The composer, Colin Matthews, is far better known as the producer of the Nonesuch recording of the Gorecki Third Symphony than as an orchestral composer.) Adding this piece after the ephemeral fade-out of Neptune makes as much sense as sticking chrome-plated plastic arms on the Venus d'Milo.

None of the other bits (specially commissioned, and boy do they sound like it) would make it on their own merits. As a bonus: there's a 10-minute video of Rattle discussing all this, but even that wears its welcome out quickly, too. (Hubble photos mixed with film of Rattle wearing the world's baggiest shirt match the uneven tone of this entire package.)

I give it three stars for curiosity value only. The "Planets" themselves aren't anything special - there doesn't seem to be any reason for this other than to promote the add-ons. Steinberg's recording is far more involving, as are any one of Boult's instead.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars GREAT SOUND, GREAT PLAYING: CHALLENGING COUPLINGS Sept. 20 2006
By Klingsor Tristan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Current scientific thinking seems to have relegated Pluto from the list of fully-fledged planets in our Solar System. It might have been better if these discs had followed received opinion and moved Colin Matthews Pluto to the second disc of other Plutons. It is a fine and interesting piece in its own right, but it completely destroys Holst's planned, considered and magical fade-out to Neptune with the female chorus's eternally alternating chords disappearing into the farthest reaches of space.

That said, this is an enterprising pair of discs. Most people will obviously buy them for the Holst work but the new works, specially commissioned by Rattle (apart from Pluto) for this project, are an interesting collection of Plutons and a substantial bonus. Saariaho's Toutatis is the most impressive: she seems to have listened to and assimilated Holst's Planets and filtered them through her own refined orchestral sensibilities. The result is a delicate piece with evocative woodwind textures that structurally reflects the complex orbit of the asteroid after which it is named. The Pintscher is a more overtly exciting item with a wonderfully played virtuoso trumpet cadenza. Mark Anthony Turnage's Ceres is perhaps more familiar territory with its jazzy syncopations and woodwind colourings typical of the composer. Brett Dean, an ex-viola player with the orchestra, contributes Komarov's Fall which has an arch structure leading to and from a big climax, but maybe overstays its welcome a touch. The second disc also includes some CD-ROM material to play on your computer - well produced but it might have benefited from a little less chat and a bit more of the rehearsal sequence.

But what of the main work which will, after all, be the chief reason to purchase for most people?

If Holst later came to find the rich panoply of sounds and textures in the Suite almost embarrassing as he sought a more sparse and ascetic sound world, there is no denying his supreme mastery over orchestration throughout his career. And the Berlin Philharmonic fully live up to all the demands made of them here. With all the skills of the EMI engineers to help them, there is so much on this disc which is ravishing to the ear. From the perfectly voiced and balanced big full orchestra discords of Mars and Saturn to the softest and most exquisite string pianissimos in Venus and Neptune, this is demonstration quality stuff both for sound and playing. The only quibble I can find is that the celeste, magical in Holst's writing for Venus and Neptune, is placed so far forward as to make it almost a concerto instrument.

The performance itself probably comes off worst in the familiar warhorses. Mars is a tad too fast and a bit matter of fact, so that the threatening, disrupting 5/4 rhythm becomes just insistent - rather like the passage in the first movement of Shostakovich's Leningrad that Bartok took to task in his Concerto for Orchestra. The separate sections of Jupiter don't quite cohere into a whole and the `Big Tune' sounds a little as if it's placed where it is because that's what the composer's great friend, Vaughan Williams, would have done.

On the plus side, though, is as breathtakingly beautiful a Venus as you'll hear. The horn steals in after the violence of Mars like a refugee from Weber's Oberon: the woodwind chords are balanced perfectly: and the solo violin and cello are sweetness personified. Mercury has the lightness of step of a Mendelssohn Scherzo with the subtlety of the rhythmic writing for timps and celeste perfectly realised. Saturn is perhaps the highpoint of Rattle's performance, profoundly moving and achieving a climax of huge weight and intensity. The harmonic suspension just before the beginning of the march is superbly judged by Rattle and his players provide a superb luminous quality for the coda. Uranus shows off Rattle's ability to lift and bounce rhythms, though the famous organ glissando at the climax goes for nothing. Neptune is a wonderful study in pianissimo writing and playing - if a little compromised by the prominence given to the celeste. Vaughan Williams must have had this movement in mind when he wrote the finale of his Sixth Symphony.

Two discs for the price of one and Rattle's choice of challenging couplings is more than justified. They come with a performance of The Planets that will certainly ravish the ear and, for the most part, satisfy the mind, too.
14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Big names produce lacklustre results Sept. 29 2006
By MartinP - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
A website, a "making-of"enhanced CD feature, a rave review in Gramophone (it is Rattle, after all) - expectations for this issue are highly strung. Unfortunately, the sounds as such do not live up to them. This is a strangely bloodless traversal of the planetary system, with Rattle seemingly determined to go all subtle and turn the music into some kind of Rococo filigree. As in his Mahler recordings, the result can sound deliberate and mannered. Granted, at times it is definitely successful: Venus is simply breathtakingly beautiful, and Mercury's fleet-footedness is dazzling. But Mars is without menace (and without organ too, by the sound of it); Jupiter is unexhilerating, Uranus just OK but nothing more (and again, not a trace of the organ even in that spectacular upward glissando); Saturn and Neptune, finally, are seriously lacking in any sense of mystery. I suspect the recording itself is partly to blame; EMI engineering is, in my experience, rarely top notch, and the Berlin Philharmonie notoriously difficult acoustically speaking. On CD, there is lack of detail, the dynamic range does not expand quite as widely as one would hope, and strings can sound strangely lacklustre and thin. Worse though is the distancing of the woodwinds, who at times sound as if they were sent out of the hall to keep the female choir company. Then again, that choir, sounds too near rather than distant.
Overall, and taking into account engineering deficits, this may be an acceptable account of The Planets, but it is at best a very pale cousin to the top choice readings by Dutoit, Gardiner or Andrew Davis. Unlike those, however, it offers a bonus in Colin Matthews's Pluto, and four additional "Asteroids" of yet more recent date. Though the promotion of contemporary composers by such a venerable ensemble is laudable, I must admit that for me these extras did very little to heighten the appeal of this set. Pluto starts even before Neptune has quite faded out, but presenting it as an integral part of the Holst only furthers the impression that it has nowhere near the stature of the other Planets. Like three of the four Asteroids, it presents the listener with a depersonalized, generic modernism that relies heavily on extreme sound effects (harmonics, sul ponticello), jarring transitions, unrelieved dissonance, random glissandi on harps or celesta, distant percussion rumblings, and general forgettability. You'll find this kind of music in any B-horror movie soundtrack. The one exception is Turnage's "Ceres", which has just enough rhythmic and harmonic contour to sustain the impression of architectural coherence, and is indeed an interesting piece (though it still remains very much in the shade of Holst's genius). Only for die-hard Rattlites.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When the Planets are all about space Oct. 19 2010
By Andrew R. Barnard - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
The Planets is one of those works that has received so much fame it is almost unbelievable. There are so many recordings of it that one almost becomes dizzy looking for a good recording of it. Is this recording one that deserves attention amid the vast sea of Planet's recordings? Well, I'm glad to say that it is. Sir Simon Rattle takes advantage of the shockingly talented orchestra and makes the Planets enormously musical, full of details and new insight.

But what distinguishes this recording is how successful Rattle is in making this piece sound like what's it's supposed to be--music describing outer space. While Holst has done a whole lot himself in making this music otherworldly, it takes skill and tact to really make the listener feel that this music isn't about things down here. Some people may not prefer Rattle's unmistakably ethereal approach, but I found it quite convincing. Featured on the second disc are the Asteroids, a set of 4 pieces by 4 different composers that Rattle commissioned for the express purpose of including on this disc.

To start things off, we hear a Mars that relies heavily on the mighty sound of the Berliners. Many accounts of Mars are bold, brash, and in-your-face. Rattle doesn't take this approach but rather emphasizes a sleekness that is bound to bug some people. I'm left feeling sympathetic, although I'm sure some people won't feel the same way. However, the ending of the movement is so undeniably terrifying that it makes up for the lack of boldness in the rest of the movement.

If the success of Mars may be up for discussion, the success of Venus isn't. It is so breathtakingly beautiful that I'm left with my mouth hanging open at the sheer skill of this orchestra. It features several solos for the first desk players. All these solos are done with such a sense of mysterious wonderment. Listening to this recording will leave you totally transported into another world--it's so spacey yet so musical.

Mercury fares equally well, with everything done with a transparency that allows the music to seem as if though it were coming from a great distance. Rattle pulls stunning details from his orchestra that only adds to the enjoyment. The biggest thing Rattle accomplishes is this tremendous mix of lightness and invigoration.

Jupiter starts out with strings that sound totally unreal; the whole of the movement is this joyous romp in a world that we know so little about. As Rattle said, this is the only truly British movement of the work. As in Mars, Rattle is more worried about the big sound and this sense that it's "out there" than he is in foot-tapping excitement. But the sound is so brilliant and detailed that I'm thoroughly convinced. The middle section, which sounds as if though it was borrowed from Holst's friend Vaughan Williams, is full of soul and meaning--enough to leave me fighting the tears.

Saturn is done with such wistful sense of unknown, full of yearning, heartfelt sadness. It's certainly one of Rattle's biggest successes on this disc. It's supposed to sound like old age is coming upon you, and, well, that's exactly what it sounds like. But there's a lot of struggle that comes from deep within the heart. It's simply unbelievably good.

Uranus should have a whole lot of muscle but, at the same, it should sound a bit clumsy and amateurish. And, of course, with the Berliners we can take the muscle side for granted. But Rattle lets loose with a dry sense of humor that makes the piece thoroughly compelling. It's so fun, yet there's this power behind it all.

I've never heard a Neptune that leaves me so stunned as this one. The female voices from the Rundfunkchor Berlin leave me feeling like I've left this world. EMI might get some of the credit, but the female voices sound so entirely "out there" that it's hard to fathom the fact that this was actually recorded by regular people. I'm left wanting to cry, it's so unbearably touching.

Colin Matthew's Pluto really belongs on the second disc, not only because it's now recognized as an Asteroid, but also because it is stylistically much closer to the musical Asteroids than the Holst. Personally, I find this undesirable after I've just recovered from Neptune fading out, but it's still a successful composition. The Berliners shine in the material, making it worth the listen.

The Asteroids that make up the second disc were, as mentioned earlier, written for Rattle to be included on this disc. Unlike the Planets, these pieces leave the realm of tonality. It's a much different world than Holst; it's one that is more worried about being spacey than being musical. And while it certainly doesn't give the listener anywhere near as much pleasure as the Planets, they are still worth hearing.

Things start out with Asteroid 4179 - Toutatis, written by Kaija Saariaho. This, the shortest of the set, is the most dreamy of the set. Unlike the others, it doesn't attempt to scare the listener. Mathias Pintscher's towards Osaris is much more brutal than the preceding piece, as it relies heavily on the percussion section. There is also a brilliant trumpet section (played absolutely brilliantly here). It's full of sudden surprises and even shocks. Mark-Anthony Turnage's Ceres is full of big brassiness, building up to a terrifying ending, where the brass give some strongly dissonant chords (this is, after all, atonal) followed by a tremendous crash. But it's Brett Dean, a former violist in the Berlin Phil, who really achieves something. His Komarov's Fall starts out in oblivion, slowly becoming audible. It takes awhile to really get going; the woodwinds come in with a striking passage and are accompanied quite rapturously by the strings. There's a beauty here that none of the other composer's quite accomplished. Things build up until there is a stupefying descent.

To summarize, this is a great album that I've greatly enjoyed having in my collection.

Highly recommended.
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