BBC Philharmonic Plays Holst's The Planets

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Editor's Note: This week we offer you two featured albums, one from the music staff at WQXR and another representing our new-music channel, Q2.

Our latest Album of the Week features an orchestra that many people have read about lately, though not necessarily have heard. The BBC Philharmonic made headlines on March 11, when during a tour of Japan, 90 members of the orchestra found themselves on a suspension bridge between Tokyo and Yokohama just as the 8.9 magnitude earthquake hit. What would have been an otherwise routine trip became suddenly harrowing (a video taken by one of the 90 members shows the incident). While there were no injuries or serious damage, the ensemble canceled the remainder of its tour and returned home to Manchester.

The BBC Philharmonic is one of five radio orchestras owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation. The fact that it isn’t a brand name in the U.S. on the level of, say, the London Symphony, shouldn’t dissuade anyone from a recording which features exciting readings of three pieces by Gustav Holst: his popular symphonic suite The Planets, along with the Japanese Suite and the Beni Mora Suite.

The album’s centerpiece, which may be the most popular piece of British music between Handel and Britten, is by turns dramatic and wonderfully atmospheric under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis. He keeps the rhythms crisp and the details clear in the militaristic "Mars," but also manages to underline the score's touches of inventiveness: the sweet lyricism of "Venus" and the wit of "Mercury." In the latter case, the trick was emphasizing the final passage in the solo bassoon, which is this section's musical joke.

Not to be overlooked are the two other pieces on the album: Beni Mora is a colorful evocation of folk music that Holst heard on a trip to Algeria; The Japanese Suite is fascinating by virtue of its inspiration: it was composed at the request of Michio Ito, a Japanese dancer who supplied Holst with most of the themes in an unusual manner -- by whistling them to him. Picturesque and genteel, it is played with appropriate ceremonial dignity.

Holst Orchestral Works Vol. 2
BBC Philharmonic
Manchester Chamber Choir
Sir Andrew Davis, conductor
Available at

Q2’s Album of the Week, as featured in The New Canon:

This week, Q2 fires off the first shots of The New Canon, a new weekly show bringing you the latest recordings in New Music. Getting special focus is Outerborough, a new album by composer, violinist and Bang on a Can regular Todd Reynolds.

In her review, host Olivia Giovetti notes: “It’s a fantastic ride, as one could only expect from one of the foxiest hybrid-chamber musicians on the market today. We also get to hear some of Reynolds’s own compositions in addition to works by Paul de Jong, David Lang, Michael Gordon and more.” Reynolds is also Olivia's guest for a live online chat on Monday at 10 am, in which he'll discuss his work on the album.

Todd Reynolds

Available at