Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Holst: The Planets; St. Paul's Suite

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As part of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra series on Intersound, this reissue of Vernon Handley's brilliant traversal of Gustav Holst's The Planets, paired with the charming St. Paul's Suite, might slip under the radar of many audiophiles, not least because of its budget status. But anyone who needs a fine recording of either or both works would do well to snap up this excellent disc, especially since the price is right. Handley's grasp of the music is masterly, both technically firm and expressively deep, and the RPO is fully responsive to his direction. The dazzling orchestration of The Planets is brilliantly executed and sharply conveyed in this 1993 recording, which captures everything from the menacing percussive rhythms of "Mars, the Bringer of War," to the faintest choral undulations of "Neptune, the Mystic." The St. Paul's Suite for string orchestra is not the showpiece its predecessor on the disc is, but it is a delightful collection of dances that are almost as popular and certainly as memorable in this vigorous and buoyant reading. The only drawback to settling on this CD is that it duplicates the tracks on a 1994 release on the Alto label, yet lacks that album's bonus of the Brook Green Suite for strings; if that disc can be found, it is preferable. Still, if this disc is all that can be found, it is well worth acquiring and hearing many times.

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