Isao Tomita’s ‘Planets’ from 1976 takes Holst’s symphonic work and puts it into the electronic realm. Most of Tomita’s albums have been pretty much out of print for years, except a few on RCA released in the 1990’s that have stayed around. Fortunately ‘The Tomita Planets’ is still available, and also re-released and remade too! There are several releases of the Planets, and all are different in format or actual performance. Took a while, but figured out the versions and changes. I tracked the timings of the first track ‘Mars’ to differentiated the original releases.
A quick rundown on the available CD releases:
CD from 1991 – Catalog number 60518 – CD in Dolby Surround sound, compatible with regular stereo. This is the silver cover with the spaceship insert. You can tell this release by Jupiter/Saturn and Uranus/Neptune tracks are segued and not separate like the original. I do not have this particular release, so not sure if any changes were made to the mix other than the surround sound processing. I suspect not since ‘Mars’ is about the same length as the original 10.54. http://bit.ly/planets1991
CD from 2004 – Catalog number 37408 – This is a Japan release from BMG Japan, a 24-bit remastered version. Essentially the same version as the original, Tomita seems to have made some small tweaks at the time in the orchestration and the flow of the works. A side-by-side comparison of ‘Venus’ did reveal some subtle changes, but to be honest, you would really have to know the work well to hear a change [I did since I have the whole album memorized]. In all honesty this may be due to being mixed in surround/quad versus stereo. ‘Mars’ is longer at 11.17.
As in the surround version, Jupiter/Saturn and Uranus/Neptune tracks are segued. Taken as a whole, I like it, and while I have to have the original, this one does have cleared sound. This is only available as an import, so tends to cost 2-3x as much as the domestic CDs. http://bit.ly/planets2004
Planets – Ultimate Edition from 2011 – This is a reworking of the original. ‘Mars’ has a different intro. All of the tracks have some differences in sounds and layout of the work. Think of it as an updated version with some of the instruments replaced. Also, a new track ‘Itokawa and Hayabusa’ is inserted between ‘Jupiter’ and ‘Saturn’. I consider this a separate performance, a good companion the original. As with the 2004 version, available as a Japanese import at additional cost. However, it has also been released on iTunes [http://bit.ly/1yEiVnQ], with great sound and much cheaper than the CD. The CD is SuperAudioCD in 4-channel quad, compatible with regular CD stereo. http://bit.ly/planets-ult
Planet Zero: The Planets with Dawn Chorus from 2011 – Conceived as a live performance for the Freedommune Zero charity concert, it was cancelled due to bad weather. From the rehearsals comes a reworking of ‘The Planets’ with several new tracks. This is a substantial change from the original, and a separate work in its own right.
Most of the tracks are much shorter than the original, but if you are a fan of the work, definitely worth a listen. http://bit.ly/planetzero2011
Also available on iTunes as a download. http://bit.ly/1rKXzPn
Ted Libbey, author of ‘The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection’ has a feature on NPR called ‘The NPR Classical 50’. Libbey and host Fred Child discuss popular classical works and have recommendations of recordings. These are short reviews with some interesting antedotes and sound clips from 2009.
I have had Libbey’s book for years, and found it overall to be a good primer for those looking to explore the classics. The writing is casual, with a discussion of the works, then various recording recommendations. While I do not always agree with the choices Libbey picks as the best performances, they are all very good recordings, and you will not be steered wrong following his suggestions. Of course many of the listings are out of date, but it is fairly easy to locate the CDs with a little bit of searching.
The NPR Guide to Building a Classical CD Collection at Amazon:
There are a lot of places that you can get free classical music, so I am going to try and find a new recording every day for the month of May. Many of them are from archive.org, so they could be old 78’s or live performances, but to have the chance to hear some new works or a conductor that is unfamiliar is always a good thing.
I will be posting these at my blog at http://www.basicrep.com if you want to follow along.
Leopold Stokowski conducts Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. From 1934, with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Sometimes I go searching for original artwork for a CD or an MP3 album I have purchased, especially the classical releases that get repackaged over and over again. I ran across a treasure trove of older album images at Piano Piano’s Flickr page. Wow, literally thousands of photos of albums. A great resource for those looking to get some information on an old release. A lot of the images are of the back side liner notes too. A great find!