Charles Dutoit / Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal

Holst: The Planets

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Regarded as a masterful interpretation since its appearance in 1987, Charles Dutoit's award-winning recording of Gustav Holst's The Planets deserves all the praise it has received from fans and critics alike. Dutoit takes the Montréal Symphony Orchestra through the work's seven astrological movements with spot-on accuracy and determined drive, so the musicians stay alert and their energy never flags throughout this dazzling tone poem. "Mars, the Bringer of War," is naturally the test of any orchestra's mettle, and the machine-like rhythms and savagely dissonant fanfares are executed with devastating force and penetrating color. "Venus, the Bringer of Peace," sets a completely different mood, and the orchestra displays some of its softest and most ethereal timbres here. "Mercury, the Winged Messenger," is a fleet scherzo that shows off the woodwinds' dexterity, and "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity," is an ebullient study of the orchestral palette, which sounds robust and full in this responsive digital recording. The darker movements that follow -- "Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age"; "Uranus, the Magician"; and "Neptune, the Mystic" -- present challenges that only a subtle conductor and an acute orchestra can meet, and Dutoit and the MSO convey their increasingly mysterious moods with remarkably controlled and nuanced playing. There are many recordings of The Planets that have appeared since this disc's release and that offer it as an audiophile showpiece, particularly in SACD formats with amazing multichannel surround-sound. However, this fairly early digital recording holds its own place, and listeners who want a great performance with really good reproduction can appreciate this disc without worrying about its standing among later, state-of-the-art recordings. Highly recommended.

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