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Cherry Pop

Title - 'Gustav Holst: The Planets'
Artist - Richard Strauss & Sprach Zarathustra

For those not in the know, William Steinberg (Cologne, August 1, 1899 New York City, May 16, 1978) was a German-American conductor.

Steinberg was born Hans Wilhelm Steinberg in Cologne, Germany. He displayed early talent as a violinist, pianist, and composer, conducting his own choral/ orchestral composition (based on texts from Ovid's Metamorphoses) at age 13.

In 1914, he began studies at the Cologne Conservatory, where his piano teacher was the Clara Schumann pupil Lazzaro Uzielli and his conducting mentor was Hermann Abendroth. He graduated with distinction, winning the Wllner Prize for conducting, in 1919.

He immediately became a second violinist in the Cologne Opera orchestra, but was dismissed from the position by Otto Klemperer for using his own bowings. He was soon hired by Klemperer as an assistant, and in 1922 conducted Fromental Halvy's La Juive as a substitute. When Klemperer left in 1924, Steinberg served as Principal Conductor.

He left a year later, in 1925, for Prague, where he was conductor of the German Theater. He next took the position of music director of the Frankfurt Opera. In 1930, in Frankfurt, he conducted the world premiere of Arnold Schoenberg's Von heute auf morgen.

William Steinberg's famous readings of Strauss' (with Sprach Zarathustra) Holst's The Planets is now newly remastered at 24-bit/192kHz from the original 4-track tapes and presented on Blu-ray Audio in 4.0 Surround + CD in DigiPack format.

Gustav Holst (1874 - 1934)
The Planets, Op. 32

1. Mars, The Bringer Of War
2. Venus, The Bringer Of Peace
3. Mercury, The Winged Messenger
4. Jupiter, The Bringer Of Jollity
5. Saturn, The Bringer Of Old Age
6. Uranus, The Magician
7. Neptune, The Mystic
Richard Strauss (1864 - 1949)
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30, TrV 176

8. Einleitung
9. Von den Hinterweltlern
10. Von der groben Sehnsucht
11. Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften
12. Das Grablied
13. Von der Wissenschaft
14. Der Genesende
15. Das Tanzlied - Das Nachtlied
16. Das Nachtwandlerlied

What does it mean to say that a certain recording is "definitive?" Surely not that it is the only way to play a certain piece, but rather, that the interpretation is so utterly convincing, while the playing is at the same time so utterly assured, that it becomes an totally absorbing and uplifting experience; a reference by which others can be judged.

Holst himself recorded The Planets (surely his must be considered "definitive" too in some sense, though that recording is rarely mentioned). Whether or not Steinberg heard that recording, he arrives at tempo choices often very close to the composer's own.

Tempo is so crucial, and getting it wrong in one movement can let down the entire performance. Boult's famous reading(s) is/are let down by too-slow tempos in Mars, which rob it of forward momentum and power. Likewise Dutoit's famous reading, and others, slow Saturn far too much, burying the melodic line underneath their massive plodding.

But Steinberg is simply perfect throughout. Mars is menacing, powerful, and swaggering. Venus is peaceful, tranquil, elegant and beautiful, without ever settling into the torpor that hurts so many versions, such as Yoel Levi's or Levine's. Mercury flits, scampers, and then blooms like a brief sunset.

Jupiter is all that it should be--not tense or rushed, as it almost sounds with Levin or some others, but jolly, merry, and full of boisterous energy. Saturn too, and the remaining movements, could not be better.

The orchestral playing of the Boston Symphony is amazing in its virtuosity, and the wonderful acoustics of their hall lend color to the winds, weight to the basses, and a beautiful sheen overall.

The recording dates from the '60s, but given the outstanding acoustics in which it was recorded, it shows its age only in a slight thickening in the treble, whereas if recorded today it might be a little more delicate and transparent. But the age of the recording is not and should not be an obstacle to anyone wanting to hear the best (alright, one of the best) Planets there is.

I wouldn't say that the Strauss Zarathustra here is "definitive," but it's an involving and exciting one. Instead of a luxurious wallow in lush orchestral tones, Steinberg provides a driving, sweeping performance that is often very dramatic and makes a great coupling for his Planets. (LTL)

These recordings remain mementos of Steinberg's brief tenure as the Boston Symphony Orchestra's Music Director. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first performance of 'The Planets' this new recording includes notes on Steinberg & the BSO and an essay on quadrophonic recording.

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