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Monday, June 19, 2017

Gustav Holst; Richard Strauss - The Planets; Also sprach Zarathustra (Edward Gardner)


Composer: Gustav Holst; Richard Strauss
  • (01-09) Strauss - Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30, TrV 176
  • (10-16) Holst - The Planets, Op. 32, H 125

CBSO Youth Chorus
National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Edward Gardner, conductor

Date: 2017
Label: Chandos



Edward Gardner directs the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain in a traversal of Holst’s The Planets that genuinely excites in its combustible power, enormous physical impact and technical accomplishment. Insights are plentiful, not least a cannily paced ‘Mars’ with some expertly terraced dynamics and where the brutality never lapses into an ugly din. ‘Jupiter’ is rousing, unstuffy and bright-eyed, with a tremendous burst of energy for the presto marking at the close, and it’s flanked by a lissom ‘Mercury’ (how cheekily the NYO’s antiphonally placed first and second violins wink at each other across the sound stage) and an exceptionally perceptive ‘Saturn’, whose unassailable tread foreshadows Holst’s sublime 1927 tone poem Egdon Heath. Elsewhere, I love the sweetly expressive string timbre Gardner obtains in ‘Venus’, and how giddily delirious are the xylophone’s madcap antics during ‘Uranus’. Production-wise, Chandos can be proud of this SACD: that stunningly well-integrated organ glissando in ‘Uranus’ is a treat; ditto the choral fade-out at the end of ‘Neptune’. In short, this is a Planets to relish.

Unfortunately, the performance of Also sprach Zarathustra isn’t quite on the same level. By chance, just the previous week, I’d dug out Clemens Krauss’s vintage 1950 VPO account, which possesses an entrancing elasticity, interpretative nous and poetic sensibility only fitfully glimpsed here, some finely honed playing notwithstanding (dashing work from leader Millie Ashton in ‘Das Tanzlied’). The famous introduction generates ample spectacle, and ‘Der Genesende’ builds to a satisfying peak, but overall Gardner’s reading somehow fails to gel and is nowhere near as convincing as those from, say, Reiner (1954), Kempe, Steinberg, Karajan (1973), Haitink or Andris Nelsons’s CBSO version for Orfeo (recorded in the same venue, Birmingham’s Symphony Hall). Don’t be put off, though: the disc is worth acquiring for this team’s stellar Holst alone.

-- Andrew Achenbach, Gramophone

More reviews:


Gustav Holst (21 September 1874 – 25 May 1934) was an English composer, arranger and teacher. Best known for his orchestral suite The Planets, he composed a large number of other works across a range of genres, although none achieved comparable success. Apart from The Planets and a handful of other works, his music was generally neglected until the 1980s, since when recordings of much of his output have been available. His distinctive compositional style was the product of many influences, including Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss, English folk songs and modern composers such as Maurice Ravel.


Richard Strauss (11 June 1864 – 8 September 1949) was a leading German composer of the late Romantic and early modern eras. He is known for his operas, lieder, tone poems and other orchestral works. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria. Strauss was also a prominent conductor throughout Germany and Austria. Along with Gustav Mahler, Strauss represents the late flowering of German Romanticism after Richard Wagner, in which pioneering subtleties of orchestration are combined with an advanced harmonic style.


Edward Gardner (born 22 November 1974 in Gloucester) is an English conductor. He attended University of Cambridge as a music student, and was a choral scholar in King's College Choir. He also studied at the Royal Academy of Music, where his teachers included Colin Metters. He was music director of English National Opera (2006-2015), principal guest conductor of  the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra (2011-2016). He is currently principal conductor of the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra. Gardner has conducted several recordings for EMI Classics and Chandos. Records.


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