Holst & Britten


Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra's irresistibly colorful Telarc recording, Holst: The Planets/Britten: The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra pairs two beloved, contrasting 20th century British works that are intended to make very different impacts.

Gustav Holst's The Planets shook the classical world on its orbit when conductor Adrian Boult introduced its "totally new language" in 1919. It's easy to see why people were so enthralled. Opening with a bang with the first planet, "Mars, the Bringer of War," the movement's incessant 5/4 march rhythm never fails to leave people sitting on the edge of their seats. From there, Holst proceeds through six other planets -- he omits Earth, and Pluto, if it really is a planet, had yet to be discovered -- and ends on an ethereal note with "Neptune, the Mystic."

Benjamin Britten's beautiful creation, composed in 1946 for an educational film, The Instruments Of The Orchestra, begins with a full orchestral version of a movement from Henry Purcell's incidental music to Abdelazer (1695). You may never have heard of Purcell's piece -- I certainly hadn't -- but you won't forget it once you hear Britten's engaging succession of variations for individual instruments.

Not only do children (and adults who see education as a continuum) learn the different sounds of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets, percussion, and strings, but they also discover, in the final variation, what a fugue sounds like when Britten brings all the instruments back together to dance with Purcell's tune.