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CD Review

Leopold Stokowski

Decca Recordings 1965-1972

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
London Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Hilversum Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Decca Original Masters 475145-2 5CDs 350m DDD 1967-72
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This fabulous five disc set is replete with some of those old Stokowski warhorses all recorded in absolutely mind boggling Phase 4 sound, overblown perhaps but astounding for its time. I am lucky to have a number of the original LPs to which I could compare the CD remastering and can safely say that the CDs are distinctly superior to the occasionally distorted pressings that marred most Phase 4 releases.

The Bach orchestrations are typical Stokowski with a mystic tapestry of drama added to the great 'Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor' I also enjoyed the pieces by Byrd, Clarke and Chopin which come to life in the conductor's dazzling orchestrations. Here, the sound is magnificent and a real party for hi-fi enthusiasts.

The second disc includes a rather maverick performance of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. The contrast with the white 'Poem of Ecstacy' is pretty striking as here the great conductor provides an incredible interpretation that is probably the best performance in the set.

The third CD contains two of my favourite works, Franck's Symphony and Elgar's 'Enigma Variations'. The Franck receives a sweeping, highly dramatic performance although it is a might too expansive. The Hilversum Orchestra leaves a bit to be desired with respect to quality of playing. The Enigma Variations are given their full due with a noble 'Nimrod' and a rousingly emotional Finale. This would be my personal pick alongside the Scriabin.

Berlioz was another Stokowski speciality and his 'Fantastique' is another memorable performance. The Ravel pieces are also winningly done especially the sweeping 'Daphnis et Chloé' Suite #2 with all its wonderful orchestration. The final disc is dedicated to 20th Century music with an excellent portrayal of Stravinsky's 'L'Oiseau du Feu' and Debussy's 'La Mer'.

As I already mentioned, Decca's remastering is absolutely magnificent and the discs are jam packed with almost six hours of music. This is another fine memorial to a great conductor who remained astonishingly vital until the very end of his life.

Copyright © 2003, Gerald Fenech