HOLST: The Planets, Op. 32. STRAUSS:
Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30. WILLIAMS: Suites from Star Wars and
Encounters of the Third Kind
When Zubin Mehta was music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic he made these recordings. Zarathustra was first, in May 1968, followed by Planets, in April 1971. The two John Williams suites were recorded in December 1977, rushed for issue to coincide with the release that year of both blockbuster movies, Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. All recordings were made in Royce Hall of the University of California, a site where London/Decca engineers have always been successful. Ray Minshull produced all except Planets, which was produced by John Mordler. Sound quality throughout is fine analog of wide dynamic range, richness and presence, superior to their previous CD issues in London's budget-priced Weekend Classics and Cinema Gala series.
Mehta's Planets is an exciting performance in the three "big" movements, appropriately mystic in the others, superior to his later version for Teldec with the New York Philharmonic. Likewise, this Los Angeles Zarathustra is superior to his later CBS recording also with the NYPhil.
Star Wars and Close Encounters are effectively presented although without the authority and opulence provided by Charles Gerhardt and the National Philharmonic in RCA's Classic Film Score series, also recorded in 1977. Gerhardt elected to omit the "Cantina band" episode in Star Wars replacing it with an orchestral tour de force called "Here They Come." Close Encounters contains some of Williams' most inspired music, particularly "Arrival of the Mother Ship," not heard in Mehta's recording where the suite is but 12:39 compared with Gerhardt's 21:00. Perhaps Decca realized the relative insignificance of Mehta's Encounters; they don't list it on the CD cover. Gerhardt also had the advantage of Ken Wilkinson as engineer and the warm acoustics of London's Kingsway Hall. Inexplicably his RCA CD coupling the two suites (2698) although still listed in the latest Schwann/Opus doesn't seem to be currently available, probably a casualty of the shakeup at RCA/BMG. If you can find it, get it -- it's worth having even though the superb original sound quality was a bit compromised by ill-advised Dolby processing.
Those looking for a relatively inexpensive coupling of these "planetary" works may find the Mehta recordings of interest.