Al Franz was one of the most interesting human beings I have ever met. He clung to the purity of the LP sound. I'd go to his house and he'd put on an LP, talk about how the new cartridge he bought, which was around $3,000.00 (that is no joke) had made it clear that there was "more music in those grooves" than the old systems could cull. That recollection has a direct bearing on this review.
I heard about this set long before I got a review copy. The two reports I got were diametrically different. So, when I got the set I was really prepared to dislike it. There have been so many "private" labels, like Classica D'Oro, that are producing inferior recordings stolen from other sources. I had not heard from my grapevine about the set, so I assumed it was probably not too good. Man, was I wrong.
What Andante has managed to do is get 'more music from the grooves'. The technical information in the enclosed booklet is not really very helpful. When I asked to be able to chat with the remastering engineer I was told he was not available and only speaks French. I did find out, however, that both Mark Obert-Thorn and Ward Marston are working with Andante on the next Stokowski set. This is good news. The bottom line is that without exception every single recording in this set is better than any previous release.
I should mention that this is the first 'commercial' compact disc release of the 1934 Dvořák 9th. I have a disc made by the defunct Japanese Stokowski Society that was taken from an LP. The sound here has a nice inner depth and the bass line sounds like a wall of double basses. This is also the case in the 1934 Schéhérazade, which happens to be my favorite recording by Stokowski (or anyone). The interpretation has a sweep, portamento that swoons… it sounds like he was planning to use it in Fantasia (Fan-ta-sia as Stokowski pronounced it). The Tod und Verklärung is just damn fine. Recently I received the Naxos release of Mengelberg's Concertgebouw recording of that piece. Comparing the two, Stokowski is much more emotional, the solo violin is touching, poignant. The 1927 Toccata and Fugue sounds much better than its previous incarnation. I do wish they had credited the cellist in the Swan of Tuonela, because his (or her?) playing is just mind-boggling. I could go on.
What you will hear in this set are the finest transfers yet. The sound stage has a depth and spread that is monaural, but more like you would have heard on an LP instead of 78s. It is so good that at times I wondered if a stereo effect had been added. I chatted with Mark Obert-Thorn about this and he tells me that there is no fake stereo. Another point about the sound is the consistency between pieces regardless of when they were recorded. There is no sudden shift that would indicate a significant change in the dates.
The four discs come in a handsome, black booklet package. There are excellent essays from Tim Page and Jed Distler. The only error I could find is Page's assertion that "By 1932, Stokowski had made hours of experimental stereo recordings for RCA." Stokowski did make some experimental LPs for RCA, but the stereo experiments were for Bell Labs. The rest of his essay is about Stokowski's music making. Distler focuses more on the recording process Stokowski was involved in and the particular items on these discs. The booklet is full of wonderful photos of the Maestro.
Even more good news is in the pipeline. Andante plans a second Stokowski release. The producer and engineer is Ward Marston. The contents are:
These will be contained on 4 CDs. I am anxiously awaiting the review set, especially to hear the unissued items. The only time I could hear a difference in the sound between recordings in the set was when listening to the Columbia discs which have among the worst sonics in this collection; the surface noise significantly higher and the overall sound congested. But, guess what? This sounds better than the LSSA/Music & Arts release.
Okay, that is all the good news. The bad news is that the discs cost $19.00 each if you include shipping. I would argue that it is well worth the price because you are going to appreciate these recordings more than ever before.
You know, Al was right; there is more music in those grooves.
Copyright © 2002, Robert Stumpf II