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CD Review

Gustav Holst

The Planets

Women of the Elmer Iseler Singers
Women of the Amadeus Choir
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Peter Oundjian
TSO Live 5
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This recording of the Planets is a generally excellent one. Peter Oundjian is an outstanding all-around musician; we here in Detroit owe him quite a bit. He and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra have made some fine recordings, including this one from 2011 featuring Holst's crowd-pleasing Planets.

The Planets have seemingly been recorded by everyone capable of holding a baton. Sir Andrew Davis led this very orchestra in a decent reading for EMI, but this is much better. Mars is aptly menacing, with a very powerful climax. Venus is lovely; I really like how it flows so effortlessly, and the Toronto winds deserve special mention. Mercury does what it's supposed to; while the playing is again superb, I miss the individuality of other versions. Jupiter has the requisite panache, although here the rather flat recording perspective doesn't allow the brass to ring out as they should. The big tune in the same movement leaves a little to be desired, too. It just needs a little more elegance and passion than it gets here. Saturn is just a little too slow, and it drags in places.

But then things improve. Uranus has swagger and real personality, with none of the droopiness of Saturn. It's a wonderful testament to the abilities of the Toronto Symphony, who really play all out here. Neptune is just splendid, running like water on oil, and capturing that mystical mood that the piece needs. The beautifully polished orchestral playing, coupled with the conductor's refusal to drag, make this the most memorable movement of all. Oh yes, and the wordless chorus is exceptionally done, perfectly matched with Oudjian's vision.

All and all, there are some definite rough spots here. The sound engineering is occasionally a letdown – although you haven't heard weird until you check out Karajan's late Berlin version – and there are some soggy moments where conducting is concerned. Still, it's better than most, and the last few movements are really magical. As a way to support a great North American orchestra, it's a good bet.

Copyright © 2014, Brian Wigman