Holst (The) Planets; Matthews, C Pluto
Near the beginning of his EMI career Simon Rattle recorded his first The Planets. It is excellent, but next to this spectacular new account it rather pales away. That 1982 recording cannot compare with the blazing brilliance, warmth and weight of the new one, which fully brings out the glory of the Berlin sound. Some may find the wide dynamic hard to cope with domestically – too loud at climaxes if the soft passages are to be clearly heard – but the body of sound is most impressive, with string pianissimi in “Venus”, “Saturn” and “Neptune” of breathtaking beauty.
Rattle’s interpretation has intensified over the years. “Mars” is more menacing and the dance rhythms of “Jupiter” and “Uranus” have an extra lift. Clearly the Berlin players have taken to this British work in the way they did for Karajan. Colin Matthews’s “Pluto” is given an exceptionally bold performance which exploits the extremes.
The second disc has four works commissioned by Rattle, dubbed “Asteroids”. Kaija Saariaho, celebrating the asteroid Toutatis and its complex orbit, uses evocative textures and woodwind repetitions in ostinato patterns, much in line with Holst’s technique. Matthias Pintscher’s Osiris is more individual, featuring a spectacular trumpet solo in celebration of the Egyptian deity who became ruler of the underworld. Again, the piece is reflective rather than dramatic.
Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Ceres is energetic with jazzy syncopations typical of the composer, while Komarov’s Fall by Brett Dean, formerly a viola player in the orchestra, builds up to an impressive climax before fading away on evocative trills. Rattle’s boldness in offering such unusual couplings is amply justified, even if most purchasers will concentrate on the superb version of a favourite piece.