Review: Philharmonia - The Planets, St David's Hall, Cardiff

Review: Philharmonia - The Planets, St David's Hall, Cardiff

Gustav Holst’s colourful musical summary of the solar system, The Planets Suite, has always been a personal favourite. So, to catch the Philharmonia Orchestra’s presentation in all its bold glory as part of St David’s Hall’s International Concert Series was too good an opportunity to miss.

On arrival at St David’s Hall both my son and I took the opportunity to sample some of the concert’s extras.  These included friendly and informative display stands supplied by members of Cardiff Astronomical Society, who engaged my son with entertaining factoids on the solar system. There was also a fascinating VR display presented by the Philharmonia Orchestra technical team on how  a concert is put together, that literally sits you in the centre of a classical performance between the conductor and the orchestra.

As the launch-time approached, we took to our seats for the Philharmonia’s concert programme. Countdown commenced as members of the orchestra attended to their strings, brass and percussion and the faint strains of tuning could decipher elements of the Planets Suite as if a comet was passing by in the distance.

Silence followed and then applause as conductor Jamie Phillips arrived on stage. The concert hall lights dimmed, and a golden aura shone over the orchestra, their organist and their conductor as they launched into a dramatic presentation of Sibelius’ At the Castle Gate from Pelléas et Melisande (familiar to many as the theme to The Sky at Night). Accompanied by a backdrop of an animated on-screen star-scape, the precision, volume and atmospherics of the performance gave the full sound and vision experience.

This continued into a presentation of John Williams Suite from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, perhaps often overlooked these days in favour of Williams other compositions, but appropriately given the opportunity to stand out on its own merits here.

For Guillaume Connesson’s The Shining One, soloist Claire Hammond joined the Philharmonia Orchestra on stage. Miss Hammond projected excitement and vivaciousness through a magnificent presentation as her fingers appeared to dance across the keys of the piano while astounding imagery of a blazing sun was projected above the orchestra.

After an interval, The Philharmonia Orchestra along with Conductor Jamie Phillips returned to perform Holst’s Planets Suite in its entirety. I have admired this music for many years led by conductors such as Sir Adrian Boult and Andre Previn on long-play records and it’s amazing how the minds eye can burn an expectation of magnificence and energy into every listen. Seeing The Suite performed live did not disappoint my lifelong inner visionary experience.

The acoustics projected by Mars, The Bringer of War, danced through the air courtesy of a meticulously dedicated orchestra led with enthusiasm by their charismatic conductor, all of which clearly felt the boldness and dynamics of Holst’s original composition.

As the programme moved along with the peacefulness of Venus and Jollity of Jupiter, it occurred to me how Holst’s composition, although over 100 years old, has remained contemporary, while influencing many of the science-fiction theme tunes of the here and now from Star Wars to Star Trek but musically has remained unbeaten.

As the unearthly echoes of  Cardiff Ardwyn Singers tones on Neptune The Mystic faded into the distance, I could have quite happily returned the needle to the beginning of my minds eye’s record, except I had to pinch myself that I had just witnessed The Planets Suite for real.

Conductor, Jamie Phillips, soloist, Claire Hammond and The Philharmonia Orchestra had certainly deserved their standing ovation from the audience for what was simply an out of this world music experience!

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