Holst: The Planets, Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra - Gardner

Holst: The Planets, Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra - Gardner

Chandos  CHSA 5179

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral

Holst: The Planets
Strauss: Also sprach Zarathustra

CBSO Youth Chorus
National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Edward Gardner (conductor)

For its very first album on Chandos, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain devotes its characteristic energy and musical mastery to an explosive programme that transcends daily life and earthly experience. It is helped by the enthusiastic, encouraging, and experienced baton of Edward Gardner as well as by the sumptuous yet detailed acoustic of Symphony Hall, Birmingham, all fully revealed in this surround-sound recording.

Their performance of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra and Holst’s The Planets is already a point of reference in the UK after the immensely successful Prom concert that preceded the recording. The concert’s five-star review in The Daily Telegraph praised in particular the orchestra’s ‘great attack and complete absence of anything routine’, while The Guardian emphasised the great performance of the orchestra in this ‘graceful and evocative programme’, especially the ‘depth and richness of sound that belied their youth’.

This unique album is a first milestone in what promises to be a superb discography for the NYO.

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PCM recording

Reviews (1)

Review by Graham Williams - January 26, 2017

Chandos deserve the highest praise for making this impressive recording of the wonderful National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain. This orchestra, comprised of musically talented teenagers - aged between 13 and 19 - started life in 1948 and has been the cradle for some of the finest musicians the UK has produced, many of whom have gone on to musical careers of great distinction.

Following a series of successful concerts during Summer 2016, that included the two works on this SACD, the orchestra and conductor Edward Gardner transferred to Symphony Hall, Birmingham to spend two intense recording sessions (August 8th and 9th 2016) committing their performances to disc.

The theme of the concerts that preceded this recording was Space, and it could be argued that Richard Strauss’s Nietzschean tone poem 'Also sprach Zarathustra', has only a tenuous link with that theme, thanks to the inspired use of its opening section in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film '2001 A Space Odyssey'. But it must be admitted that it makes a fitting companion to Holst's 'Planets - Suite for Large Orchestra' another immensely popular blockbuster, even though the latter's subject is astrological rather than astronomical.

'Also sprach Zarathustra' is not an easy work to bring off convincingly in performance. Too often what follows the celebrated opening bars can seem as something of an anti-climax unless the conductor has a firm grip on the work's structure and ensures that the eight sections that follow cohere into a seamless whole rather than becoming episodic. Thanks to his generally forward pulse Gardner achieves this most successfully while also stressing the sheer originality of the music and what in 1896 would have seemed its striking modernity. He makes no concessions to the youthfulness of his gargantuan160+ piece orchestra who respond wholeheartedly with thrilling and utterly committed playing of the highest standard. Special praise is due to the orchestra's leader Millie Ashton who delivers the tricky 'Das Tanzlied' section [Tr. 8] with complete assurance. Nevertheless in spite of the huge number of players (all of whose names are listed in the liner notes) the sound does not have the weight and tonal depth that one might expect from a fully professional orchestra. This impression is compounded by the perspective of the 5.1 multi-channel recording that, while giving every entry of the organ a room shaking presence, places the orchestra at some distance to the disadvantage of the strings in particular.

As with the Strauss work Gardner's 'Planets' is dynamic, swift moving and, with an overall timing of 48' 01”, the uncompromising vigour of his interpretation is both self-evident and most welcome. Beginning with a forceful and menacing account of Mars, in which the percussion section have a field day, each of the subsequent six movements is brilliantly characterized. Venus flows with stately elegance, Mercury is nimble, the very brisk pace for Jupiter really does suggest “The Bringer of Jollity” whilst the inexorability of Gardner's powerful and chilling account of Saturn contrasts with one of the most rumbustious account of Uranus I think I have ever heard. Finally, the accurately pitched wordless singing of the CBSO Youth Chorus at the conclusion of a glacial Neptune bring this memorable Planets, a performance that unquestionably demonstrates to the full the virtuosity of these young players, to a satisfying conclusion.

Chandos already have a fine SACD version of the Planets in their catalogue from Sir Andrew Davis and the BBC Philharmonic Holst: Orchestral Works, Vol 2 - Davis. That was recorded in DSD whereas the new one is in Chandos's preferred 24-bit / 96k Hz, and to my ears the sonics though good are are not quite as vivid or immediate as those on the earlier release.

In spite of my reservations, those looking for these two works in high resolution sound should seriously consider putting this recording on their shortlist.

Copyright © 2017 Graham Williams and


Sonics (Multichannel):

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Comments (6)

Comment by Waveform - December 31, 2016 (1 of 6)

Oh, what a wonderful newcomer of Chandos! I already ordered the album in advance - it is now in my library, then.

The Planets looks pretty interesting but Zarathustra is a real treat here. I have waited for a long time a superb SACD release and most likely this will fulfill my expectations. Mackerras (Membran) was OK but the surround sound was a slight disappointment. Perhaps this album was recorded in 192kHz/24bit or even in DSD...

Bravo, Chandos!

PS. Watch the stunning performance (The Planets) here:

Comment by Scott Adair - January 11, 2017 (2 of 6)

From the back insert, it appears to be 24/96 & 5.1. Seems like kind of a shame to make a new recording destined for SACD and not use DSD. Maybe I just don't understand the technological issues, or perhaps it is just a matter of cost.

Comment by hiredfox - January 13, 2017 (3 of 6)

Indeed so Scott!

What Sony failed to do when launching SACD back in 1999 was to embed DSD as the recording code for SACD in a standard, which was their raison d'être for the new medium. The Sony/Philips Red Book standard for CD was set in stone and specified 44.1kHz / 16bit as the recording coding, so how they messed up with SACD & DSD remains a mystery.

These days surely we have moved on from the sterile debate of PCM v DSD SQ. DSD is de-facto analogue in nature whereas PCM is not. In a nutshell PCM is no more than a poor recording man's DSD and the final transcription of PCM into DSD does not for one moment mitigate the inherent flaws evident in the SQ of any PCM recorded SACD (screechy metallic upper strings, nasally and harsh female voice etc).

Chandos has not covered itself in glory it has to be said, having for years extolled the virtues of DSD Recording and labelled their SACD as such only to "discover" that because they were recording in PCM and only transcribing PCM to DSD to format the DVD disc that was not an entitlement to claim that their discs as being DSD recorded. When the error was pointed out to them they soon changed their covers to confirm 96/24 PCM recording had been used and their literature to extol the virtues of PCM recording!!!

Bissie confirmed to us years ago that he had to switch away from DSD to PCM because of critical cost considerations, he had many recording rigs operating around the world - witnessed by a wonderful array of artists and ensembles form all over the globe on the BIS label - and he/they just could not afford to convert to DSD recording rigs and stay profitable.

One suspects you'd get the same answer from Chandos and other small niche SACD labels yet on the other hand Challenge, LSO Live and Mariinsky are not huge but stick resolutely to their DSD guns.

Comment by Stephen Wright - January 13, 2017 (4 of 6)

"What Sony failed to do when launching SACD back in 1999 was to embed DSD as the recording code for SACD in a standard, which was their raison d'être for the new medium. The Sony/Philips Red Book standard for CD was set in stone and specified 44.1kHz / 16bit as the recording coding, so how they messed up with SACD & DSD remains a mystery."

All SACDs are encoded in DSD-64, regardless whether the original recording is analog, DSD-64, DSD-256, 44/16 PCM, or DXD.

All Redbook CDs are encoded in 44/16 PCM, regardless whether the original recording is analog, DXD, 96/24 PCM, or DSD-64. In fact I have a Telarc Redbook CD that proudly advertises its DSD origin (Hartmann Symphonies 1 and 6, 1999, conducted by Leon Botstein, I think).

The resolution of the original source recording was never set in stone by either the CD or SACD standard.

Comment by hiredfox - January 15, 2017 (5 of 6)

Stephen, I think you know what I am saying.

Comment by William Hecht - February 5, 2017 (6 of 6)

Graham's review is spot on. The members of the NYO absolutely cover themselves in glory. Unfortunately the sound (at least in mc) is not to Chandos' usual standard. Perhaps the sheer size of the orchestra (160+ players) presented balance problems, but whatever the cause the strings are simply not prominent enough. Still very much worth having for the marvelous work of these teenaged players.