There seems to be a glut of Stokowski recordings coming from a number of different sources. Someone must feel there is money to be made by issuing The Maestro's work. The problem is that the quality of the CDs varies widely. This report is to let you know about two recent items that you may come across in your travels down classical lane.
First is a ten-disc set that runs a mere $40.00 at HBDirect (plus $4.00 post). That's a good price, but… Almost all of the material has been released previously on Pearl, Biddulph, Cala and even RCA!!! After several listenings I can honestly say that the previous issues are all as good as or better than anything in this set. Most of the material is from the Philadelphia era, but there are a few items from the New York City Symphony Orchestra (Carmen music from 1945 released on Pearl and the Roméo and Juliet on Cala 502) and the NBC Symphony Orchestra (Solitude, also on the same Cala release). For their reproduction of the Biddulph "Fantasia" they substituted the Disney recording of the Dukas which was actually recorded by a studio pick-up orchestra. The sound is as bad as on the Disney release, grainy and flat. One of the discs contains the Mussorgsky/Ravel excerpts of "Pictures" and Scriabin "Poem du vei" from the live, stereo experiments in 1932 (not on CD so far as I know). The rest is Philadelphia stuff. It includes a disc of Wagner music (various dates), a disc of Bach transcriptions (various dates) the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2, the Tchaikovsky 5th from 1934 and the 1935 Dvořák 9th. I found most interesting the disc that contains the Beethoven 9th from 1934 mit der finale in English. This was first issued on CD by yours truly and the Leopold Stokowski Society of America (later on Music and Arts) so I was interested to compare the two. What I found is that the LSSA's has a bit more surface noise, but greater clarity and depth. This is possibly because the set was cut at a slightly lower level, perhaps to mask surface noise. Still, if you don't have any of these already, it is a good way to get introduced to the Sound World of Stokowski. For what it is worth, the cover art on the CDs has one of the worst photos of Stokowski I have ever seen. He looks like Larry of the Stooges. The insert notes range from useless to hysterical. In the one on Wagner the first paragraph is repeated, verbatim, as the last paragraph. On the other hand the rest of the essay was so dull and uninformative that perhaps repeating the last paragraph was the best idea. I could go on. If you must have the set, it is inexpensive and you might want to use it as a hook for others. It isn't bad, there is just better (or was… I am not sure how easy it would be to get some of the originals).
Mémoires Moving on we go to the Casadesus Piano Concerto #2. This is from a live broadcast with the "New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra" (NYPO) on 14 March 1948. The sound is average for these kinds of things. Little or no work has been done to "help" the original masters. The soloist is the composer. I found the music to be unimaginative and not memorable at all. There are some other Casadesus solo works on the disc including Ravel's Juex D'Eau, Fauré's Prélude and Impromptu #5s, Severac (who???) and 12 Debussy Préludes. These are from Columbia recordings from 1928 to 35. While this may be of interest to Casadesus aficionados, I have other recordings of the same music I prefer. To my ear I have always felt Casadesus didn't use pedal enough. He sounds brittle, perhaps more suited to Mozart than the French. I much prefer Gieseking in the Préludes. The disc is pricey as well. Cascavelle 2012 (Amazon - UK - Germany - Japan) at HBDirect. I got the "History" set from that company as well. If you haven't checked them out they have good prices and an excellent selection. Postage is reasonable, unlike RCA's club and other similar ilk. You get a "free" membership by subscribing to American Record Guide, which you can get for a reduced price by belonging to H&B. Complicated, I know, but what-the-hey. The only drawback is having that goose necking irritation of not wanting to look at Vroon's editorials. You know, I want to see it but I don't.
Well, I may have saved you 40 bucks. I got the opportunity to revisit some old friends.
Copyright © 1999, Robert Stumpf II