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CD Review

Stokowski and Russian Music

Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York/Leopold Stokowski
* Houston Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (1959)
Everest EVC9037 Mono/Stereo
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Omega/Vanguard continue issuing the Everest recordings Stokowski made in the 50s. In fact, I think this just about does it, unless they have a surprise in a can somewhere. Then, again, there is Bob Keeshan doing Peter and the Wolf but I don't think we'll hear this. Then there is the Amirov, which really could have been appended to the Shostakovich 5th released earlier.

This recording, minus the Scriabin, was previously released on a dell'Arte label in conjunction with the Leopold Stokowski Society based in England. That disc earned a rosette in the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs and for years has served as a paradigm of recording and interpretation for these works. All I can say is that this remastering is even better than the dell'Arte. There is a front-to-back perspective absent in the dell'Arte disc. The whole listening experience is tremendously moving.

Stokowski had a special affinity for the music of Tchaikovsky. When he was good, nobody was any better. In this case, no one has ever done a better job with these pieces. In the Hamlet Stokowski captures the essence of Shakespeare's play. The opening is a drum roll to an orchestral exclamation point! Then it sinks to a rumination, bleakness and dispair. This sense of alternating anger and depression runs throughout this music. It is almost as if the music had been composed for a movie. In fact, Tchaikovsky did write it to accompany some kind of charity performance that never took place. In Francesca da Rimini the opening storm has never sounded so fierce, the sorrow of the doomed lovers has never been so poignant. Listening, especially with my headphones, I am sucked into the performance at once. As I said, the sound is marvelous, I don't think I made a single note on my scratch pad as I listened. The insert notes are taken from the excellent ones written by David Hall (hope you remember him) for the original LP issue.

Stokowski had a liking for Scriabin which I do not share. Regardless, he recorded this piece three times in his life. The Philadelphia recording can be heard on Pearl 9066 (coupled with Schoenberg's Gurrelieder). The last recording, a 1975 London Phase Four with the Czech Philharmonic, has recently been released (coupled with Mussorgsky/Stokowski Pictures at an Exhibition and the finest Stravinsky Firebird Suite I have ever heard: London 443898) and is sonically the best of the three. This Houston performance was issued on a Price-Less CD several years ago. The sound on that disc was a bit muddier in the bass. Here all is well, but if I had to live with only one recording of the Scriabin it would be the Czech Philharmonic.

But you probably won't buy this disc for the Scriabin, anyway. Do yourself a favor and get this issue. If you love Tchaikovsky, nobody did him better than Stokowski. This is really a must have for any serious classical recording collection. I have given it five stars in the CDiscography of Stokowski.

Copyright © 1995, Robert Stumpf II