Vasily Petrenko presents Gustav Holst’s Planets: Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

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Captains Log: Stardate February 2008.
Mission: To undertake the listening of Holst’s Planets.
Getintothis’ Matthew Eland bravely ventures were few rock heroes have gone before.


Since Vasily Petrenko took over as principal conductor at the Phil, one of the evenings that’s jumped out during his tenure so far has been this performance of Gustav Holst’s masterwork The Planets.
It’s preceded tonight by a couple of pieces from Wagner’s Tannhauser, and aside from a spooky violin/cello duet just before the encore, there isn’t anything to make it stick in the memory.
The same can’t be said for Mars, which Petrenko unleashes with such ferocity straight after the break, the 5/4 time signature and relentless bass line stunning everyone out of their Wagner induced lethargy.
It’s such a crowd pleaser and so instantly recognizable that it must be a technical challenge to do it justice, but the orchestra delivers.
The string sections brood and sway nicely, leading to a staccato ending that’s so brutal, so loud, it ends to spontaneous applause.
Venus and Mercury are both rather dull in comparison, but both endowed with enough brooding minor notes to temper their more impish tendencies. Jupiter is the next centerpiece, the swirling violins leading into its famously majestic breakdown, the emotional power of which proves undiminished by countless dodgy world cup ads.
The orchestra struggle to match these two standout pieces, although they come close with Neptune, the final track, and its eerie choral fade-out.
Apparently the singers are hidden in the wings, making creative use of the Phil’s acoustics to convey the drift from all experience into the cosmos, as was Holst’s original intention; one he struggled to create in his lifetime.
All in all, the lesser known movements struggle to compete with Mars and Jupiter, but as a piece of work it’s startlingly forward thinking, and it’s relevance to modern music is clear.
The immediacy of its finest moments rivals anything this classical novice has seen before, and more visits are needed.
They currently have some decent deals on for the classical performances, I saw this on an under-26 discount for five English pound sterling, so it’s worth going to their website and seeing if anything takes your fancy.

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