As the title suggests, these recordings have not been released on CD prior to this. In fact, some never made it to LP. We owe a debt of gratitude to Music and Arts for releasing this set. With it we have virtually everything Stokowski recorded now on CD. Except for the acoustic recordings I am not aware of any remaining Philadelphia recordings around.
A good writer knows who is audience is and I am undoubtedly preaching to the choir. The questions you have concern the quality of the transfers. They are all excellent. Reverb has been added to the recordings made in the church as per Stokowski's wishes. [When asked about these early recordings Stokowski said they were terrible and suggested that adding reverberation would help] The result is excellent. There is air around the music and a sense of decay that is so important to the sound of music. You may also have some questions about how recordings differ from one another and I will touch on those matters anon. I am not going to go into detail about every item on these discs. The notes by Richard Freed are more informative than interesting but cover a lot of the questions you may have about the recordings that I don't.
Disc one is my personal favorite. When I was head of the Leopold Stokowski Society of America it was my idea to issue an LP of Stokowski's non-Bach transcriptions. Mark Obert-Thorn did the remasterings for LP. This disc contains much more than what was on the LSSA release and the sound is significantly better. Stokowski spent a lot of his time orchestrating and arranging music from the baroque era. Of course the notion of being 'historically correct' in performance was not as much an issue then as now. Rather, Stokowski merely wanted to create music. Of course it is more Stokowski than Vivaldi, Frescobaldi, Lully, Byrd or Handel but the audiences didn't care and I am sure my readers don't either. This is simply wonderful music-making and the sound is excellent.
Okay, the eight years separating the two recordings of the Franck symphony make clear that in that time significant improvements had been made in electrical recordings. The sound is fuller, richer and has the seamless string quality that is one of the aspects of The Stokowski Sound. Stokowski also pushes-and-pulls the music as it is played. This lends the music a more Romantic texture and aura. Frankly (I had to do it) I can hear why Stokowski wanted to make the 1935 recording. Still, this is a fascinating, educational experience in comparing the two recordings. David Hall, when writing about the later recording said it was 'more Stokowski than Franck'. This 1927 recording is, in contrast, more Franck. Then we have that "wun-der-ful" Stokowski music-appreciation talk. Yes, the music is "of the mystical and dream world" in Stokowski's hands. This was the first electrical recording of the work.
[Aside regarding the Franck Symphony] After several listenings it has become obvious that the sound quality in movement two is significantly better than the other two. I notice that the symphony was recorded over three days. I am going to assume that the second movement was on one of those and that for some reason (the equipment being used, placement of microphones or maybe the weather) the results were better. The other two don't have the inner-depth perspective and aren't as full or rich. The sound quality that pervades the quiescent, water-music quality of the interlude before the coda in the last movement, however, is just overwhelming. The timpani are clearly part of the sound stage, the liquid quality of the strings and harp (s?) is just staggering.
The Bach recordings on disc number two are good to have. In fact, I prefer this 1934 Toccata and Fugue recording to the more "popular" 1927 one. The 1939 Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ sounds significantly better than the 1927 recording. As I said in my comments about the Franck, improvements in the recording process are obvious. The Beethoven 5th is not among my favorites. I always found Stokowski's recording with the NBC Symphony Orchestra the finest he made of this work.
Brahms' 4th sounds better than the 1933 recording. Now, the opening of this 1931 recording was taken from a disc with the 1933 recording because of a lack of any copies of the '31 issue. It is probably the added reverb that Mark uses but the whole has a better presence and the performance is better as well.
There was something special about the sound that Stokowski got from the Philadelphia Orchestra. There was a Stokowski Sound but it sounded better in Philadelphia than anywhere else. It is as if you are listening to a lovemaking session when you hear the Debussy. And this was all achieved in making 78 sides. It boggles the mind.
When I first heard about this release I was told it would not be available in the US. Apparently, Fred changed his mind. I see it listed in the March 2006 HBDirect catalog.
Copyright © 2006, Robert Stumpf II