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CD Review

Stokowski's Return

Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Recorded 6 February 1962
Guild 2403 62:44
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In May of 1919 Stokowski made his first recording of Festival at Bagdad with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He went on to record the entire Schéhérazade five times from 1927 to 1975. If someone had told me that Rimsky-Korsakov wrote the piece with Stokowski in mind I would point out that he was six when Schéhérazade was born and then agree with him. No one interpreted this music better than Stokowski. He instills it with more emotion than anyone else. His 1934 recording is my favorite with portamento and swelling strings, as if Stokowski anticipated recording it for Disney's Fantasia. The greatest recording, however, was with the London Symphony on Decca Phase Four. I used to use it to test the quality of speakers to handle the crescendos and see just how clear they could detail the sound.

Stokowski returned to the Philadelphia Orchestra as a guest conductor in 1960. According to one source some of the orchestra players openly cried at the reunion. This program included, in addition to the Russian works, Gabrieli, Frescobaldi, Bach and Chopin transcriptions as well as Eichheim's Japanese Nocturne (which I wish had been added to this release). The program ended with the Schéhérazade and the audience response says it all. Each movement is faster than the London Symphony recording and the concert master, Anshel Brunsilow, offers up a sensual protagonist who weaves her stories around the gruff sultan and sighs the ending slowly tapering into the silence of love. The Tchaikovsky also displays Stokowski's passion and I prefer the Stokowski ending to the regular one that always seem tacked-on to me.

The sound is good FM stereo and while not as transparent as the London Symphony or Royal Philharmonic recordings it still provides plenty of detail and the rich, deep bass line so important to The Stokowski Sound. Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2014, Robert Stumpf II