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CD Review

Leopold Stokowski

Decca Recordings 1964-1975, Volume 2

  • Ludwig van Beethoven:
  • Symphony #5 in C minor, Op. 67 1
  • Symphony #7 in A Major, Op. 92 2
  • Symphony #9 in D minor, Op. 125, 'Choral' 3
  • Overture: 'Egmont', Op. 84 1
  • Franz Schubert:
  • Symphony #8 in B minor, D759, 'Unfinished' 1
  • Johannes Brahms:
  • Symphony #1 in C minor, Op. 68 3
  • Richard Wagner: 1
  • The Ride of the Valkyries (Die Walküre)
  • Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey (Götterdämmerung)
  • Siegfried's Death and Funeral Music (Götterdämmerung)
  • Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla (Das Rheingold)
  • Forest Murmurs (Siegfried)
  • Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff:
  • Schéhérazade, Op. 35 3
  • Capriccio espagñol, Op. 34 2
  • Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky:
  • Overture: '1812' 4
  • Marche Slave 3
  • Modest Mussorgsky:
  • Night on the Bare Mountain 3
  • Boris Godunov - Symphonic Synthesis 5
  • Alexander Borodin:
  • Polovtsian Dances from 'Prince Igor' 4
1 London Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
2 London Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
3 New Philharmonia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
4 Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
5 L'Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/Leopold Stokowski
Decca Original Masters 475609-0 6CDs 412m ADD
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'Stoki' was always a conductor with immense personal charm and this jam packed set brings out some of his more famous recordings made more the fabled Decca Phase 4 label in the 60's and 70's just before his death. The repertoire is made up of core works ranging from Beethoven symphonies through Wagner 'bleeding chunks' and Russian masterworks that were the ultimate Stokowski speciality.

The Beethoven 5th, 7th and 9th date from 1969 to 1975 and are fine classical accounts although admittedly they do contain some significant curios. I enjoyed the 5th with its robust First Movement and its white hot Finale with the 7th slightly more sedate although with a wonderful Allegretto. In the 'Choral', Stokowski is pretty inspired and it is amazing to realize that he was over 90 when the recording was made in 1973. There is a fine team of soloists although some distortion does creep into the sound as is normal in Pahse 4 remasterings. The 'Egmont' Overture is a no-nonsense, straightforward account that serves as a fine prelude to the 9th Symphony.

Schubert's 'Unfinished' and Brahms' First Symphony suffer from some quirky mannerisms such as slowing down and erratic changes of gear but are otherwise fine accounts that preserve the Stokowski tradition. Richard Wagner was another composer dear to Stokowski's heart and this justly famous collection is a true gem with some fantastic sound especially in the classic 'Ride of the Valkyries' and the momentous 'Die Meistersinger' Prelude.

The final two discs in the set are dedicated to Russian masterworks beginning with a sesnsous and romantic account of Rimsky-Korsakoff's 'Schéhérazade'. Erich Gruenberg's solo violins wisps through with beautiful colour with Stokowski in true form at the head of the brilliant LSO. The accompanying 'Capriccio espagñol' is also very fine with a whirlwind final dance that brings out the best of the nonagenarian conductor.

The last disc has already been issued before in Decca's short-lived Phase 4 series and here there are some serious distortion problems especially in the 1812 Overture. However, Stokowski conducts with consummate passion in all these works that he himself arranged with the result being quite overwhelming. Mussorgsky's music from 'Boris Goudonov' really comes alive in the conductor's symphonic synthesis while the Polovtsian dances are truly memorable in the wild sense of abandon. Stokowski collectors will enjoy this well filled set that will also serve as a good introduction to new classical music enthusiasts.

Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech