Celestial Voyage


Gustav Holst's spectacular orchestral voyage into outer space has proven so popular that, on Oct. 27, Telarc will release its third traversal of the work in 23 years, Holst - The Planets. Recorded in extremely realistic, expansive DSD sound by Grammy Award-winning recording engineer Michael Bishop, the disc finds Paavo Järvi and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in top (that is to say thrilling) form.

I recall the last time I heard The Planets, in a mediocre performance. Led by an uninspired conductor who seemed intent on squandering the resources of the San Francisco Symphony, Holst's seven celestial bodies seemed dismayingly earthbound. In welcome contrast, nothing in this new Telarc recording gets in the way of lift-off. The huge punch of the opening track, Mars, the Bringer of War, finds its energetic opposite in Järvi's airy presentation of the final voyage to Neptune, the Mystic. Thanks to the clarity of the recording, which excels in preserving detail within a huge, naturally resonant soundstage, Holst's compositional daring impresses anew with its freshness.

The companion work is Benjamin Britten's The Young Person's Guide To The Orchestra. Composed in 1946 for an educational film, it begins with an unforgettable theme from Henry Purcell's instrumental music to Abdelazer. In contrast to the darkness of Britten's most probing operas, some of the short movements in Young Person's Guide give Britten an opportunity to indulge in his whimsical side. The zippy final fugue, which packs a punch all its own as it brings the themes together, is an unmitigated delight.