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CD Review

Stokowski Conducts

EMI 66760
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
EMI 66760
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Have you seen the Teldec video, "The Art of Conducting: Great Conductor of the Past"? [4509-95038] In it Stokowski says, "We have to try to understand and give to the listening public what we consider was in the mind and soul of the composer." This is followed by Stokowski conducting "Dido's Lament" with the BBC Symphony Orchestra. I am sure that the 'historically informed performance' crowd would have a conniption fit*. On the other hand, it was probably a less jarring juxtaposition in 1954.

I have not heard a better recording of the Vaughan Williams music. This is partially due to the excellent sonics. The placement of the two orchestras and string quartet are perfectly captured, the whole thing developing an antiphonal effect that is ravishingly religious. Stokowski recorded the piece twice, though there are five recorded performances in the discography. I have heard it done by Barbirolli an Boult, but Stokowski is better.

Tristan's Lament (oops, I meant Dido's;-) is absolutely pure Stokowski. It is about as anachronistic as you can imagine. If you think Stokowski did harm to Bach, you'll accuse him of first degree murder in Purcell. I love it. Again, the Desmar recording is fantastic.

On to Dvořák's Serenade. Here we have Dvořák à la a Tchaikovsky Ballet The portamento and string swoons are absolutely, unadulterated Stokowski. Now, my only other non-Stokowski recording is with The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and I like the lighter textures in Schneider's AS&V recording [COE 801]. Still, this is a perfect cap to this Stokowski disc. It may appeal more to Stokowski-philes than the general public, but I would recommend this disc to anyone wanting something to put on to have a pleasant night's listening. It is not tripe, it is just plain old good music making.

Desmar made two of the finest recordings that Stokowski ever put to disc. The sound is natural, unlike some of the Phase 4 recordings (as spectacular as they may be). I wish that some way could have been foun for Desmar to continue making recordings for Stokowski to the end of hi life. EMI has done a wonderful job of transferring these master tapes to CD. They sound much better than some of the recent issues from the major companies, EMI included. For example, the sound on this disc is much, much better than on the most recent RCA issue of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, with Tilson Thomas conducting the San Francisco SO.

Post Script: If you want a real rush, listen to this recording with headphones. I just picked up 25' of Terminator interconnects so that I could run my McCormack headphone amp to the other side of the room, where I sit and listen late at night with my Beyerdynamic headphones (how about that for a run-along sentence with plugs???). Nice.

I tried to investigate any recording details to help explain the glorious sound in these discs. I consulted the notes for CDs and LPs as well as Oliver's book. The only mention is in the notes for the Rachmaninoff Symphony LP. Anthony Hodgson mentions Stokowski 'dividing the orchestra into instrumental choirs in order to capture both clarity and spaciousness' and the "immense strength" of the large double bass section. Whatever the reason, Stokowski achieved his fines recordings here, they are of demonstration quality. It is a shame that Mr. Klorman, owner of Desmar, had so little financial ability to continue to work with Stokowski.

*Still with me? I've always wanted to use this phrase, one of my Mom's favorites. I checked her spelling with the dictionaries in my house. Anyone out there have any clues as to the etymology?

Copyright © 1998, Robert Stumpf II

Trumpet