Amazingly, it’s The Wombles’ 50th anniversary this year — the furry rodents first appeared in 1968 — and to celebrate, Mike Batt has released this special edition of Holst’s The Planets.
OK, so that’s only partly true: this new recording actually marks the centenary of the first performance of The Planets (29th September 1918, since you asked), but we reckon Mr Batt will help shift a few copies because of his wider fame.
Batt is clearly a clever man, and not just musically: when asked to write the Wombles theme, he waived his £200 fee and asked for the character rights for musical production instead.
He has also conducted many big orchestras, including the London Symphony, Royal Philharmonic, London Philharmonic, Sydney Symphony and Stuttgart Philharmonic.
It’s not just the Wombles and Planets that are long in the tooth: this recording was made (in one day) in 1993. We guess the sound is mostly live — given just one day, there’s not going to be a lot of second chances.
The Planets was written between 1914 and 1916 and first performed in 1918. While its inspiration was astrology (hence Earth — the only planet not named after a God — not being included), the global turmoil must surely have influenced opening piece Mars, which is unlike all the rest. Though as he’s the god of war, he’d demand some fireworks.
You’ve heard of a lot of this too, even if you don’t know it (and even if you missed any of the prog rock interpretations that doubtless were inflicted on hippies in the seventies).
Track two is Venus, Bringer of Peace, heard on Supertramp’s Fool’s Overture, last track of Even in the Quietest Moments, while Jupiter, The Bringer of Jollity, was nicked by Manfred Mann for Joybringer and by Holst himself for the hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country, later itself purloined by Charlie Skarbek and entitled World in Union, the theme song for the Rugby World Cup.
John Williams used the melodies and instrumentation of Mars as the inspiration for the Star Wars films, specifically The Imperial March; Hans Zimmer was so “inspired” by Mars for the music of Gladiator that a lawsuit from the Holst Foundation ensued.
So: this music is so good and easy to listen to that it’s been liberally used ever since it first appeared. Mars aside, it’s all mostly tranquil.
We suspect some purists will wobble at the thought of a classic being recorded in a day under the baton of a Womble but it’s good: it perhaps lacks a little in subtlety but that’s made up for by the live feel of the orchestra, which gives it freshness.
The closing track is that Proms favourite, Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No 1.
Out now on Guild, GMCD7814.