REVIEW: The Planets: An HD Odyssey (Royal & Derngate) ★★★★

For many of us space is many hundreds of thousands of miles away and we rarely give it a second thought. Yet, at one time we have perhaps considered what other planets are like; indeed the many space films provide little insight and more a surreal imagination of what the future could hold. But as the years go by, scientists are making strides towards space exploration and the imagination could become a reality.

The Planets Suite by Gustav Holst is extremely evocative, much of it inspired by traditional understandings of the various astrological beings for which the planets are named. However, the intention is to convey the ideas and emotions associated with the influence of the planets.

In The Planets: An HD Odyssey, the Suite is preceded by other space-related pieces, including Star Wars: Main Theme, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and Also Sprach Zarathustra. To my surprise, one of my favourite pieces – Strauss’ Blue Danube Waltz – was also included; I later discovered it is in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) is word-renowned and it is always a pleasure to watch and listen to them. The precision and perfect alignment of the violinists is a joy to watch; the conductor Nick Davies is a magician, provoking such a fantastic performance from the orchestra.

However, the audience are expecting HD images to accompany all pieces and for the first half of the evening, the screen shows nothing but social media accounts and an advert for a CD. Not only is this disappointing, it’s also very distracting when trying to listen to the music.

Following some interviews with NASA scientists, Mars – the Bringer of War begins. This piece is dramatic, evocative and intense, with incredible footage of the planet projected above the orchestra. Although unnecessary, it does create a certain added danger to the overall feeling of the piece.

Venus – The Bringer of Peace changes the mood with its melodic, watery feel that is a stark contrast to Mars and is followed by Mercury – the Winged Messenger, portrayed in bright colours.

Rousing Jupiter seems a steady favourite with the audience, as association with Cecil Spring Rice’s lyrics often provoke a sense of patriotism and pride. Less well-known, but no less beautiful are Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, which are mystical – almost fun – in nature.

Overall, it’s a fantastic collection of music, brought together under a popular theme. However, the imagery really does not add much, as for many of us it is the music that we came to hear and sometimes isolating the other senses intensifies the experience.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes


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