Royal Philharmonic Perform The Planets with Images

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Holst, Bach, Strauss J, Strauss R, Beethoven, The Planets – An HD Odyssey: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Robert Ziegler (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 19.6.2016 (SRT)

For the Royal Philharmonic’s 70th anniversary, they’re embarking on a nationwide tour which rolled into Edinburgh this afternoon.  The centrepiece of their programme is Holst’s Planets suite, but as well as the score we’re treated to the HD images commissioned by the Houston Symphony to be screened in time with the music.  I saw this back in 2010 when the Houston Symphony themselves brought it to the Usher Hall, and while it’s not recent enough for me to be certain, I’m pretty sure the images are the same.  It’s a good fun way of seeing The Planets once, or even twice, but I found myself less convinced this time around.  It’s partly because the images inevitably feel the need to do something, and there’s often a sense of busyness to the screen even when the music is being quite still.  Venus suffers the most from this, though unsurprisingly Mercury fits it best.  Jupiter gets the balance about right, and this time I found Neptune to be the most convincing overall, mainly because the images were happy to float fairly statically over the screen as the music was undertaking its harmonic wanderings.

The first half of the programme consisted of hits that had been used in science fiction films: namely the opening of Also Sprach Zarathustra and The Blue Danube (from 2001), Stokowski’s transcription of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue (from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), the Allegretto from Beethoven’s Seventh (from Zardoz) and Star Wars (from, well…).  The orchestra seemed to really enjoy letting their hair down in these, particularly in Star Wars that glittered as brightly as a new penny (or a lightsabre), and they relished the Gothic horror of Stokowski’s Bach.

It was heartening, by the way, to see so many young children in the audience.  The repertoire and the visual element will certainly have helped (as will the start time of 3pm), and let’s hope it helped serve as an entry drug for lots of new audience members.  As is always the case in concerts like that, there was some crying, a bit of whispering, and lots of leaving the hall in the middle of a movement but, happily, no one seemed to mind.

This was the last orchestral concert of the Usher Hall’s season, and the last before the Festival begins in August.  They have recently announced their Sunday Classics season for 2016-17, and full details can be found here.

Simon Thompson


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