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CD Review

Eternal Magician

* Robert Shaw Chorale of Women's Voices
Leopold Stokowski Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
** All-American Youth Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (1941 binaural recording)
Cala CACD0549
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If nothing else you need to get this disc to hear the Enesco Rumanian Rhapsody #2. It is the only recording I've ever heard and listening to this one makes me want to get other recordings for further study. My first exposure to it was on a Quintessence LP that contained these recordings coupled with the Liszt Rhapsodies 1-3 recently released on CALA. Those "electronic stereo" LPs actually sounded okay. This is HUNGARIAN…there is a gypsy tang to it…it could easily have been in an MGM movie (and was probably stolen from some film composer for a movie like El Cid…). I love it. I listened to it four times in succession when I got the disc. After flailing about like a fish out-of-water trying to find its way back in, I found the word that best captures how 2 differs from 1: languid. I've listened to this repeatedly over four days…I just love this music. I need to get more recordings now so I can study it. Rhapsody number one is also good but I'd forgotten just how much more was happening in this music.

[Aside: After listening to the Romanian Rhapsodies I went out and got recordings of Enesco's symphonies. What a disappointment. Maybe I've just got to find a rack to hang my hat on but these symphonies sound academic to me.]

Stokowski recorded the Debussy thrice in his life. Here the solo work of Bob Bloom in Nuages produces some downright sultry clouds. Fêtes has all the excitement of a festival. In short, nobody did Debussy better than Stokowski and this ad hoc band produces an impressionist panorama.

As for The Firebird, this is another item Stokowski recorded multiple times. His final recording, with the London Symphony on Decca using the P4 sound, is my personal favorite but this one is better than the Berlin Philharmonic recording he made. When I listen to that recording I am always baffled. This famous orchestra sounds flat. It may be the recording or perhaps Stokowski was tired from traveling or perhaps the orchestra just didn't like him and didn't produce…The finale here is phenomenal with solo details deliciously caught. My notes have the word "WOW" at this juncture. To be honest, though, every time I listen to this music I can't shake from my head the animated version in Allegro Non Troppo where the snake happens to eat the apple instead of Eve and all hell breaks loose…skip to the next paragraph…

Then we have the curio. Damn this is exciting! I've a personal affinity for these recordings. I knew Warren Eason, who played in Stokowski's first All-American Youth Orchestra orchestra at the age of 18 and I wish I'd saved his stories. Stokowski was always open to experiment. Once I got a call from a guy in Boston who was going through a closet in his office at a recording company. He came across a stack of experimental 33 RPM records made at Capitol. He asked if I'd like to have them…they were the basis of a couple CDs the Leopold Stokowski Society of America once produced. Here we have yet another recording experiment Stokowski took part in. The details are in the notes. This is yet another oft-recorded item. I wonder why it wasn't released. It is a fine performance and the recording, at least in his binaural stereo form sounds good to me. It reminds me of the Bell Labs experimental recordings of the same piece in Philadelphia in 1932.

Okay, recommended sans reservations. Maybe the Stokowski Society could do something to improve those Berlin recordings…

Copyright © 2008, Robert Stumpf II