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CD Review

Stokowski Conducts

Cala 529

Aurora's Wedding & Encores

National Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Cala CACD0529
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This is a desert island disc. Some people might consider is a dessert island disc. No matter, it offers over an hour of some of the finest music-making ever. There is never a dull moment.

I owned both these LPs (or ellpees in England) and still have the "Encores" disc. Yes, both; in the "good old days" of the LP (sometimes I thought they were the 'Rice Krispies' of entertainment) you had to purchase both "ellpees" to have the music included in this one CD (more-or-less). The only omission is Rimsky-Korsakov's "Ivan the Terrible" from the Encores ellpee. So, in purely economic terms, you are still getting value for your money, in fact… given inflation since 1983, ergo 'real dollars'… we might be actually paying "less money" for music than almost twenty years ago.

I have used different composer's names to fill-in-the-blank, but nobody did Tchaikovsky better than Leopold Stokowski. While his transcription of Bach's "Toccata and Fugue" (which opens "Fantasia") is limned across the memory of most listeners of classical music and associated with the Maestro, in fact his discography of Tchaikovsky recordings is second only to Bach, tied with Wagner. "One Hundred Men and a Girl" opens with the finale of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony*.

What we have here is Diaghilev's ballet arrangement of "The Sleeping Beauty". Stokowski recorded it twice in his career. The 1953 recording is currently available on ReDiscovery 009 **. This recording, made when Stokowski was a young 94, is, of course, better sounding. The National Philharmonic was a virtuoso band, composed of the finest players, from all sorts of orchestras in England. The recording is superb. There is warmth without sacrificing detail and the details are legion. The Stokowski sound, rich bass line and passionate phrasing, is all here. It is lush, it is a must.

Stokowski's encores were often from his transcriptions. This disc was issued on a Japanese Sony CD in 1996. The sound on that disc (available only in Japan) was good, but leaner than on the Cala disc. The Cala is warmer, more romantic. The Debussy sounds as if the composer wrote it. You have to listen to the "Bumble Bee" to believe it. Stokowski's Chopin transcriptions are, well don't expect Chopin but expect wonderful music.

This CD should be in every serious lover of classical music. On a scale of one to 10, I give this disc an 11, at least. Do you want a pleasant evening of listening to classical music sans simplifying it to muzak? Good music should be entertaining but not just entertainment. This release fulfills that requirement. Buy and enjoy.

* I love the opening of that movie. In the audience is a young man following the score. I can imagine his face when he realizes the cut at the very end.

** For information to get this disc (which also includes Rimsky-Korsakov's "Russian Easter Overture" and extracts from Mussorgsky's Khovantchina) go to: http://www.rediscovery.us/

Copyright © 2001, Robert Stumpf II

Trumpet