Fortunately for audiophiles who love The Planets but are disappointed by most performances, a group that includes us to be sure, the amazing sound found on this copy is coupled with a superb performance.
As you might imagine, on a big system this would make for a powerful listening experience, which is exactly the experience we ourselves had during our recent shootout. This copy actually deserves its place on the TAS List.
The brass is so BIG and POWERFUL on EMI’s recording that other orchestras and recordings frankly pale in comparison. Until I heard one of our top EMI pressings show me brass with this kind of weight and energy, I simply had no idea it was even possible to play the work this powerfully. The lower brass comes in, builds, gaining volume and weight, then calms down, but soon returns and builds relentlessly, ever and ever louder. Eventually the trumpets break out, blasting their way forward and above the melee the heavier brass has created below.
Quite honestly I have never heard anything like it, and I heard this work performed live in late 2012! In live performance the members of the brass section, being at the back of the stage, were at least 100 feet away from me, perhaps more. When playing the best EMI pressings the brass were right there in front of me, eight to ten feet away. In a way this is of course unnatural, but that fact takes nothing away from the subjective power of the experience.
Only the conductor can stand at the podium, but the EMI producers and engineers (the two Christophers in this case) have managed to put the listener, at least in this movement, right there with him.
The EMI Sound
EMI’s are usually recorded with a mid-hall perspective, which is somewhat distant for our taste. That’s not our sound. We prefer the Front Row Center seats (especially at these prices). That said, when an EMI from the ’70s is recorded, mastered and pressed properly, it actually sounds more like the real thing, more like the live performance of orchestral music in a concert hall.
It’s uncanny how real the best copies of this record sound. For a recording of The Planets it has no equal in our experience.
Previn Vs. Mehta
This 1974 release is widely considered one of the great recordings of The Planets. Previn is simply outstanding throughout. He’s not going after effects, he’s making all the pieces fit.
Of course it trounces the Mehta recording that many audiophiles, HP included, are seemingly enamored with (see the notes below). We certainly never have been. EMI knows how to make an orchestra sound like a seamless whole, unlike the Decca recording engineers who appear to take perverse pride in awkwardly spotlighting every section. (Was it a Phase 4 experiment gone wrong? That’s my guess.)
And the average London or Decca pressing of The Planets is lackluster, so opaque and smeary it’s barely second-rate, a fact that most audiophile record collectors have mostly failed to appreciate since it first appeared on Harry’s Super Disc list all those years ago.