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CD Review

The Stokowski Sound

New Music

  • Henry Cowell: Persian Set
  • Roger Goeb: Symphony #3
  • Ben Weber: Symphony on Poems of William Blake
Leopold Stokowski Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Citadel 88123 (Mono)
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This disc is a good example of Stokowski's efforts at promoting "new" music. Can you imagine Toscanini performing, let alone recording these? He was alive and beating time when Stokowski made these recordings. The music is all from the 50s both in recording and composition and frankly, I am glad Stokowski made the efforts to perform and record these pieces, even if I sound less enthusiastic about the music itself.

It has been said that Stokowski often performed/recorded 'new music' but never repeated any of it. This is certainly unfair. In the first place, "new" for Stokowski included much Stravinsky, Sibelius, Shostakovich, etc. All of these composers were frequently performed and recorded by Stokowski. Further, as Stokowski once told Sylvan Levin, you don't really know how good a piece of music is until you perform it. So, Stokowski probably performed many works and decided they weren't as good as they looked on paper.

I do not want to sound like this is a disc for Stokowski fans only. The Cowell is quite pleasant if a bit too predictable. It sounds like "Persian" music after having been infected by Ketelbey. MGM and all that stuff. The contents are all from monaural tapes, but the Cowell is so good you might be fooled into thinking it is early stereo. This music is the most likely to attract listeners to this disc, it is 'accessible' and agreeable.

The Goeb is best described by the Maestro Himself, in the notes taken from the original LP. "His Third Symphony is in three parts, its musical texture is a complex interweaving of dynamic rhythm and vigorous, melodic lines. The first part is moderately fast, with alert dance rhythms and powerful accents. Its second theme, a extreme flexible melody, is first played by the oboe. The second part is slower, in a nostalgic, fantastic, exotic mood. The third part is vivacious, with dance themes in free rhythms, as if improvised. Its first theme is announced by the trumpet, followed by developments of all the themes, as if different groups of revelers were answering each other. The texture of the music is earthy, lusty, with complex counter-rhythms. Frankly, this highly-developed and deeply original symphony will not be fully understood in one hearing…Only repeated listening, with an open mind and heart, will reveal its musical message with clear forms and eloquent expression of its depth of meaning." That's the best way to put it. My jury is still out on its verdict, but I confess I find the second part rather haunting and will probably investigate this further.

I have never liked William Blake's poetry and this piece is more a cantata than a symphony. Another thing crossed my mind while listening; have you ever noticed how when someone "reads poetry" their voices change? It's like they have to 'instill' the words with meaning not otherwise there. I find that really annoying. I hope my poetry, if ever read aloud, is read like it is writ.

I fear I am not the best person to promote the disc for its contents. The pieces may be far better than I know and possibly are essential listening for someone studying mid-20th Century classical music. The sound on the disc is superior to the CRI LPs, nicely detailed and rich. The Stokowski Sound is recognizable.

I'm afraid this review sounds more negative than I had meant it to. Recommended for Stokowski fans and those interested in these composers especially Goeb. (I do like much of Cowell's other music, and this Persian Set isn't 'bad'.)

Copyright © 1998, Robert Stumpf II