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  Deutsche Grammophon -
  471 634-2
  Holst: The Planets, Grainger: The Warriors - Gardiner
  Holst: The Planets, Grainger: The Warriors

Women's Voices of The Monteverdi Choir
Philharmonia Orchestra
John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)
Track listing:
  Classical - Orchestral
Recording type:
Recording info:
  Recording: London, All Hallows, Gospel Oak, 2/1994
Executive Producer: Dr. Peter Czornij
Recording Producer: Lennart Dehn
Tonmeister (Balance Engineer): Rainer Maillard
Recording Engineers: Jobst Eberhardt / Stephan Flock
Editing: Stephan Flock
New surround mix and new stereo mix: Rainer Maillard
Recorded, edited and mastered by Emil Berliner Studios

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Reviews: 3

Review by seth March 7, 2006 (13 of 16 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Hyperbole aside, Percy Grainger's "The Warriors" is quite simply the most inventive, original, brilliant 20th Century orchestral composition you have never heard. Out of the few people who have heard it, half probably blow it off as kitschy fluff. The problem is that Grainger made the music so accessible (or rather so unpretentious), that few listeners realize just how rhythmically and harmonically complex "The Warriors" is. And nearly 100 years later, it's hard to appreciate how Grainger's use of percussion instruments was decades ahead of its time, anticipating what Stravinsky, Cage, Adams and others had yet to do.

In brief, "The Warriors" is a fantasy for orchestra in a circular ABABA form (much like the last movement of Ive's 2nd Symphony), consisting of 15 different themes and motives, with an "orgy" or orchestral colors. At first listen, there is nothing 'modern' sounding about the music. It has a neo-romantic flavor that perfectly compliments "The Planets." To fully appreciate "The Warriors," you really have to listen carefully.

Grainger is often compared to Ives for his interest in independent off stage brass, independent polyphony and juxtaposing tonalities and rhymes. A notable feature of "The Warriors" is that it requires two to three conductors. This is because in the section following the return of Tempo I, the entire orchestra divides into three subgroups, each playing at a different tempo. The following section features extensive double-chording where "different instrumental groups simultaneously playing different chord passages that pass through, above and below each other and are harmonically independent of each other." I had to pull that definition since I cannot better explain it. Remarkably, it's quite easy to miss all of this where as with Ives you cannot. Finally in Ivesian fashion, after a gigantic fanfare, the piece ends in a sudden anticlimax.

What listeners will probably find more interesting than this music theory aspect of the work, is Grainger's percussion section, which includes xylophone, wooden marimba, glockenspiel, steel marimba (today a vibraphone), staff bells, tubular bells, celesta, and three pianos. Grainger was really the first composer to turn the percussion section into an independent section of the orchestra, making it an equal with strings, brass and winds. The way in which Grainger uses the percussion section to introduce and develop melodic and harmonic ideas was way ahead of its time. While composers in Grainger's time would follow his lead (Stravinsky, for instance), it's only recently that composers have begun routinely writing orchestral music that include percussion sections and music for the instruments in the manner of "The Warriors." Just think of all the extra instruments you see on stage for contemporary compositions compared to almost anything written before 1960. And this percussion section, that resembles a gamelan orchestra, produces sounds that will remind some listeners of John Adams (and others).

Also noteworthy is the treatment of the pianos. They are neither an obbligato part nor 'filler.' Instead they are treated like any other instrument in the orchestra.

Oh, there's more. In the section following the return of Tempo I, listen for the piano being played by marimba mallets striking the strings. Something, you might say, only John Cage would think of (who was born a year before Grainger began composing "The Warriors").

On top of all of this dribble about harmonics and percussion, "The Warriors" is an exciting, lively piece of music; something we should be regularly hearing as a curtain raiser for gala concerts. And since there is so much going on in the music it, it remains fresh and exciting after dozens of listens. I never just listen to it once, but multiple times.

I believe that "The Warriors" has only been recorded a half dozen times, and I know of only three recordings in print: Hickox (Chandos), Rattle (EMI) and this one. Hickox's recording benefits from a new critical edition of the score -- Grainger was always vague about how many percussion instruments and the types of mallets -- but his tempos are often too fast, failing to conjure up the grandeur Rattle and Gardiner manage to. Rattle and Gardiner are near identical in interpretation and performance, though I find things in the transition from "Dance Orgy" to "Climax" get a but mushy under Rattle's baton. The Philharmonia Orchestra, my favorite of London's half-dozen or so orchestras, is beyond reproach.

The recorded sound is terrific. I've owned the CD version of this recording for many years, only recently upgrading to the SACD due to the disc becoming mysteriously scratched. When comparing the SACD to CD, it becomes clear how DG manipulated the CD to make it sound good on low end systems. The re-mix engineer has eliminated the fake reverb, which I actually thought worked to the music's advantage (perhaps the surround mix is significantly more reverberant). More importantly, though, is that when compared to the CD, it becomes clear that the CD spotlighted the brass and percussion, giving them an upfront perspective. This has been undone, creating a much more natural sense of depth and position of the instruments. Finally, the SACD also illuminates some compression done to the CD so that listeners wouldn't have to adjust the volume much. The unaltered SACD stereo layer reveals that DG did an excellent job recording the Philharmonia, perfectly capturing the huge dynamic range of the music.

As for "The Planets," I've never been a fan of it, but I suppose it receives a first rate performance, but I don't expect it to displace any personal favorites.

Enthusiastically Recommended

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Review by darkroommd January 27, 2007 (9 of 11 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Planets Reference Album: Atlanta/Yoel Levi on Telarc

I am very favorably impressed by this performance of Holst's Planets and Grainger's Warriors by the Philharmonia led by John Eliot Gardiner. I will comment on some of the highlights, with the general statement that I cannot find anything to criticize anywhere.

Mars is somewhat slower than the norm, and certainly slower than my reference. However, the intensity in this performance is second to none. The 5/4 march sounds as sinister as ever with meticulous pizzicato in the opening bars. Gardiner also does an extraordinary job coloring this movement (and others) with the percussion, which is crucial in this suite IMHO. The Philharmonia brass are also extremely impressive, without upsetting the overall orchestra's balance.

Mercury - I have always thought this is one of the most imaginative and unique pieces in the literature. After buying the 2-piano sheet arrangement (Holst's own) for the Planets, and attempting to put this movement together, I became keenly aware how difficult this would be to pull off. Well, it is done superbly here, with the rapidly moving lines (many times in different cadences) flying around the orchestra with ease and precision.

Jupiter is maybe a shade faster than the norm, but never going past "jollity" and into chaos. Again, percussion stands out here. The famous middle section is very well done, with a very warm string sound and well paced by Gardiner.

The later dreamy/magical movements are all well executed. There are simply no weaknesses here, and actually many strengths that will make this performance most listeners' new favorite Planets.

Grainger's Warriors is a rarer but welcome treat to complete this album of English masterpieces.

Sonically, HOLY COW! SACD's high frequency sampling does wonders for big sound, especially complex waveforms like the "noise" of crashing cymbals, roaring gongs, thundering organs, triple pianos, etc. All those fireworks are here, and so well reproduced that this would make a great demo disc for a new system. The overwhelming feeling here is that you really are in the concert hall.

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Review by Claude April 30, 2007 (8 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
As far as the interpretation goes, I'll just say that this is my favourite recording of "The Planets", and I refer to the other two reviews. The Grainger composition is a nice bonus.

I've had the CD version since it came out. I listen to stereo only, and I hesitated a long time before getting the SACD, knowing that the resolution of the PCM recording is 44.1kHz/24bit only. So theoretically, there is not much room for improvement of the SACD over the CD.

But, as Seth has mentionned in his review, it's the remix that makes the SACD sound so much better than the CD. This recording was made with the process that DG touted as "4D". I never liked those recordings and preferred the non-4D recordings that DG made just before. The process added an overall bloatedness, making it sound more spectacular but also very artificial.

The new stereo remix has reduced some of this effect. The overall sound is more transparent, better balanced in terms of space and tonality (the CD is quite bass-heavy) and less "in your face". Still, compared to hi-rez recordings, some digital glare remains, that's why I give the sound less than the maximum.

This SACD is highly recommended, even if you already have the CD and listen to stereo only.

Too bad the nice shiny silver lettering on the CD cover was replaced with cheaper white print on the SACD booklet ;-)

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Works: 2  

Percy Grainger - The Warriors
Gustav Holst - The Planets