While any CD claiming to be an introduction to the music of Gustav Holst would be remiss if it did not include The Planets, it is still disconcerting that Chandos does not present listeners with a more representative sample of Holst's other genres. Is it really necessary to have two works -- the Brook Green Suite and St. Paul's Suite -- for chamber orchestra? After all, Holst was most prolific in the area of choral composition. So why not substitute one of these works for one of the string orchestra pieces? This is puzzling indeed.
All that aside, the performance of The Planets by the Scottish National Orchestra is quite rousing. It does an exceptional job of capturing the different characters of each planet. "Mars" truly evokes the notion of deus ex machina; it is very militaristic and regimented, as it should be. The brass section earns kudos for its efforts in "Jupiter," but there are times in this movement where it seems the orchestra rushes through cadences and doesn't take advantage of opportunities to hold back the tempo in favor of a bigger contrast at the climax. Written for students at the St. Paul Girl's School, the two works for string orchestra here are certainly charming but definitely lack the profundity of the composer's full compositional potential. Again, one of these works would have been sufficient and would allow listeners an opportunity for exposure to another of Holst's more mature works.