Customer Review

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A disc closely linked to the audio visual project in London, 1 April 2013
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This review is from: Universe of Sound - Holst: The Planets; Talbot: Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity (Philharmonia Orchestra/Esa-Pekka Salonen) [Blu-ray] [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
This disc celebrates more than Holst's Planets suite as its very title suggests. Another main clue lies in the much advertised number of 37 cameras used for the production. This disc is really an extension of the Universe of Sound project and audio visual experience put on in London's Museum of Science in 2012. This was an attempt to engage with the attending 'audience' members by providing a wrap-round experience of being within an orchestra at the time of its playing. Furthermore there were interactive options to find out what it feels like to conduct the orchestra by using linked software.

This was a very major initiative and investment in terms of cost, time and technology and seems to have been very successful. The next project concerns the Rite of Spring.

For purchasers of this disc there are various extras but this does not include the interactive conducting. There is the option to watch and hear a descriptive documentary which gives a musical listening guide to each planet while the music plays. This will be both interesting and informative for newcomers especially. Of less obvious educational value but entertaining the first time, is the option to hear section leaders chatting about and commenting on their practical experiences as the music plays. There is also the option to have a picture insert within the main picture showing the players' view of the conductor during the performance. Again, I would suspect of little repeat value.

The most likely option will be to simply choose to watch the performance in the normal way. This will not be the normal view however, and that is where the 37 cameras come in as they are positioned in such a way as to try and replicate the sensation of being within the orchestra. In practical terms this usually means frequent inter-cutting to show players in isolated close-up as they are featured thematically as the music progresses. This rapid change from player to player, incorporating some unusual angles on the way, could be both tiring for some viewers and disruptive to the concentration on the whole for others. One solution would be to listen rather than watch for a better purely musical experience. At that point one may wonder why a CD would not do just as well.

Moving on to the performance: Salonen conducts a very 'traditional' reading where all tempi are absolutely within the normal expected range. The setting is of a 'studio' type where the players, dressed in standard concert attire, are set against a black background. Sophisticated lighting and high definition cameras ensure that detail is consistently of an excellent standard and that the players, dressed in black suits or dresses, do not get lost by merging into the black background. There is no audience so there is something of a sterile feel to the 'performance' and interaction between players in the form of shared glances etc. is almost non-existent. The playing itself is of a totally excellent and very professional nature. This would make a very good study disc for those following a score or wishing to study the construction of the music sonically.

On a sound level, this disc delivers the sort of excellence that one would expect of Mike Hatch where everything is exceptionally clear and well-balanced. Again, an excellent disc for studying the score. Comments read elsewhere about the lack of impact as regards the bass drum did not appear to apply to my equipment which extends to below audibility and certainly delivers on drums of any sort plus low organ etc. This particular sound reproduction issue may be as much to do with conductor choice or my own satisfaction with this level of impact.(Please see comments 3 and 4 below for further discussion on this point). The choir and organ were recorded at other times and in other venues and have been expertly incorporated into the sound mix. We don't get to see the choir during the performance which seems a little odd, if understandable in the circumstances.

The final bars of Neptune take us directly into a continuation piece by Joby Talbot entitled Worlds, Stars, Systems, Infinity. This works well as a composition and makes a viable and reasonable extension to Holt's own creation. However, by being so joined as a continuous piece, it means that those not sympathetic to Talbot's vision or those simply wishing to enjoy the Planets as written by Holst are denied that option.

In summary I would suggest that this interesting disc works very well on its own terms but that its own terms will compromise the musical experience for some viewers. There is a lack of communication between players and between audience and players that the best real concert recordings can supply. There will be too much camera hyperactivity for some and not enough overall views (in fact, none). The bonus features are of limited appeal, certainly for repeat viewing but that is also true of most other audio/video discs. The actual recording of both the visuals and the sound is exceptionally clear and precise within its own parameters.

This is a fine disc sonically, but so are many others on standard CD format. At that point it would be fair to point out that many of those are more than a match for this in terms of character and implied performance. I personally enjoy those by Sargent, Boult, Previn and Gardiner in no particular order and find them very rewarding both as musical and aural experiences.

This disc represents fair value but still leaves room for a recording to take precedence at some time in the future which will combine high quality recording standards with a real sensation of a 'live' event of note.

........................................

Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:

--" interaction between players in the form of shared glances etc. is almost non-existent"

Because of the way it was recorded, each section of the orchestra was isolated, visually, from each of the others by dividers (which is also why there aren't overall views). Some of the performers indeed comment that it made them aware just how many of their cues they take, not from the conductor, but from movements (especially drumsticks coming down!) in other sections of the orchestra. So it's not surprising that you're seeing a lack of visual interaction between the players because, outside of their own sections, they couldn't *see* the other players.

I think given such limitations, it's inevitable that this performance will struggle to match other recordings in terms of character or emotional impact - but that's the price for getting this degree of technical insight into the workings of an orchestra in such a glorious piece of music. (U.K. review)

I thought that you might like to know that before I buy a recording I now look through all the reviews to see if you have posted one. Your assessments and opinions are invaluable. Thank you. (US review)

I particularly like your format of review. They give the prospective purchaser an idea of the style of the playing and relevant comparisons. They are succinct. Keep up the good work! (UK review)

I'm sure there are many other serious collectors, besides myself, who wait for your synopsis and opinion before spending their hard-earned money on new releases...
Keep up the good work!
Thank you (UK review)
............................................
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Aug 2013 17:19:32 BDT
--" interaction between players in the form of shared glances etc. is almost non-existent"

Because of the way it was recorded, each section of the orchestra was isolated, visually, from each of the others by dividers (which is also why there aren't overall views). Some of the performers indeed comment that it made them aware just how many of their cues they take, not from the conductor, but from movements (especially drumsticks coming down!) in other sections of the orchestra. So it's not surprising that you're seeing a lack of visual interaction between the players because, outside of their own sections, they couldn't *see* the other players.

I think given such limitations, it's inevitable that this performance will struggle to match other recordings in terms of character or emotional impact - but that's the price for getting this degree of technical insight into the workings of an orchestra in such a glorious piece of music.

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Aug 2013 19:00:37 BDT
Last edited by the author on 11 Aug 2013 19:00:57 BDT
I. Giles says:
Dear Philip,
Thanks for this insight into the recording which is not apparent on the disc or in the notes etc. I am sure others will find your extra information informative and helpful. Best wishes, Ian Giles

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Jul 2014 19:44:22 BDT
It's not on the recording notes, but it is very much discussed in the conversation between the performers on that 'extra' (which I personally found absolutely fascinating, not least in how little most of them knew about what was going on elsewhere in the orchestra or what was involved in playing other instruments!).

I was lucky enough to see this exhibition at the Science Museum. Sadly whilst this disc recaptures some of the magic of that, even a good stereo would struggle to match the sound from that much larger audio-space and speaker-array!
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I. Giles
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   

Location: Argyll, Scotland

Top Reviewer Ranking: 11