BBC Philharmonic Plays Holst's The Planets

Free Download! The BBC Philharmonic Plays 'Mercury, The Winged Messenger'

Thursday, March 24, 2011

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


More in:

Comments [7]

Stephanie J. Hughes from Manchester, NJ

I just received this album. It's fabulous. The mixture of "known Holst" - The Planets - and the two oriental pieces is fantastic. Beautifully played, a joy to own! Thank you!!

Apr. 03 2011 03:55 PM
Michael from Rutherford NJ

Its a shame that they have an elitist attitude. That is why I prefer listening to the LA Phil as well as the new orchestra down in Miami with Michael Tilson Thomas who is no youngster. He and people like Dudamel are the present and the future of classical music as far as I am concerned. It is unfortunate we don't get to hear shows that feature composers such as Copland, Holst, etc. Unfortunately we may have to wait for the old guard to pass away. Thank you

Apr. 01 2011 10:35 AM
Dirk from LES

The New York Phil is too snobby and elitist to play music like The Planets unless it's inserted into one of its summer "pops" concerts. It's a legacy of Masur and Maazel. The orchestra turns its nose up at anything that isn't serious and sober. A shame - there's a lot of lighter classical music that younger audiences especially would find enjoyable.

Apr. 01 2011 06:12 AM
Michael from Rutherford NJ

It is wonderfull to hear holsts planets. In listening to this new collection I wonder why we never hear his music performed by any orchestras such as the NY Philharmonic? Any thoughts. Thanx

Mar. 31 2011 10:45 AM
Linda Mallan from New Jersey

Heard Mars as I was driving my grandson to nursery school yesterday. The tramping of the boots and the never-ending percussion brought tears to my eyes. How prophetic.....

Mar. 30 2011 05:34 PM

You learn something new everyday Gregg. Thanks for that Mars info.

I once engaged my son in an "interplanetary battle" employing his Star Wars toy spaceships and his plastic set of "guys". We did this while I had "Mars the bringer of War" blaring on the family stereo. He was seven, maybe eight years old, but he really got into it.

That's one way to introduce a child to the classics!

Mar. 30 2011 01:57 PM
Gregg from Astoria Queens

Most people who hear the entire suite won't realize it, but "Mars the bringer of War" was written in 1914. It was eerily prophetic.

Its rhythms presented a description of the mechanized horrors of the First World War.

Mar. 28 2011 10:49 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.


About Albums of the Week

The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.