New series—Streaming the Classics—1/Holst: The Planets

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Do you ever type a streaming query in Roon for a classical work and are overwhelmed by the choices? Rather than clicking on any old recording or the first one you see, Audiophilia will make things a little easier for you and do the heavy listening.

These choices are for streaming only. Is the best in streaming also the best vinyl recording and performance? That’s for another article.

A few criteria:

  1. Recording must be on both Qobuz and Tidal HiFi.

  2. It does not have to be HiRes or MQA.

  3. No more than ten recommendations in no particular order, then my top three for streaming in order of preference.

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That’s it. Each post will not be exhaustive—a few notes about the recording and performance and lots of nice photos. Then we’ll get you back to listening.

We’ll tell you about recordings that surprised us (either way) and go into a little more detail why we chose a top three.

Our first work is The Planets by English composer Gustav Holst written in 1914.

The Planets is easily the most popular orchestral work by an English composer, topping even Elgar’s wonderful Enigma Variations.

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After listening to many recordings, we noted ten recordings we think our readers will enjoy.

In no particular order:

  1. Previn/LSO/EMI

  2. Karajan/VPO/Decca

  3. Boult/LPO/EMI

  4. Solti/LPO/Decca

  5. Litton/Bergen/BIS

  6. Jurowsky/LPO/LPO Records

  7. Dutoit/Montreal/Decca

  8. Rattle/Berlin/Warner

  9. Mehta/LAPO/Decca

  10. Steinberg/BSO/DG

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Orchestral standards are so high on each of these recordings, I’m not sure I can tell many of them apart. When you take recording quality into the mix, the two EMIs and the four Deccas are justly famous. If you click on any of them, even the provincial Bergen Phiharmonic on a superb new BIS recording, you will get crackerjack, powerful playing.

Of course, with seven very distict movements, some are stronger than others, and a few shine more brightly in one particular planet. Litton’s old, plodding ‘Saturn: The Bringer of Old Age’ is wonderful, as example, compared to Vladimir Jurowski who almost sprints through it. Though, Jurowski is amazingly powerful in others with exceptional orchestral playing.

Want the best ‘Mars‘? That’s easy. The Dutoit/Montreal is famous for that movement. Incredible power and evil, especially the trombones and tuba. Solti is also very fine, here.

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One particular orchestra, the London Philharmonic, has three in our top ten. They own this piece. They have other recordings of it, too, plus they probably play it live once a season. Playing standards on all three is very high, with the EMI and Decca recordings absolute knockouts. Poor old Jurowski is kneecapped by the dreadful (let’s fix it in the mix) acoustics of London’s Royal Festival Hall. Rattle says of it, ‘after 30 minutes of rehearsing there, you lose the will to live!’.

Speaking of Rattle, his earlier recording with the Philharmonia is nowhere near the quality of this one with Berlin. If you want a safe bet of flawless playing in every planet, choose Rattle, but he doesn’t always give the most emotional impact. Recording is very good but nowhere in the Decca league.

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Karajan was the opposite of Rattle. His later version on DG with the Berlin is dreadful, including some really dicey intonation. But his earlier account on Decca with the Vienna is very fine.

So, taking into account emotional wallop, consistency in all seven movements, orchestral execution and recording quality, the following are our top 3 streaming choices. We’d love to hear yours in the Comments below. Many will dismiss (my) choices out of turn for not adding a Boult in the top three. I hear you. I heard him do it live with the LPO—an amazing performance, but making it into the top ten (his Philharmonia recording is also mighty fine) is no disgrace when their are literally hundreds of recordings.

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  1. Andre Previn conducting the Londons Symphony Orchestra on EMI

  2. William Steinberg conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra on DG

  3. Sir Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra on Decca

The Previn is a knockout from beginning to end. His horns have no equal and his swagger with English music is well know. He brings out the theatrics better than most. Plus, a classic EMI recording in every sense.

The Steinberg tops the list for many, only pipped here to the post due to my outrageous LSO fanboy status. The BSO’s playing is world class and the generally lugubrious Steinberg gets the character of each planet beautifully. The recording, while very good is not quite in the Decca/EMI class.

Solti? His British music with the LPO on Decca is legendary for recording quality and intense, brilliant music making. This is a superb reading.

But hey, you cant go wrong with any of the ten choices, or ten more if I wanted. A great piece is served by many magnificent recordings. Have fun and happy streaming.