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CD Review

Leopold Stokowski Conducts

Stokowski Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
RCA 37322
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

Piotr Ilyitch Tchaikovsky

  • Symphony #5 (rec. 1953)
  • Nutcracker Suite (rec. 1950)
Stokowski Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
RCA 37341
Find it at AmazonFind it at Amazon GermanyFind it at Amazon CanadaFind it at Amazon FranceFind it at Amazon Japan

These discs are from BMG Japan and not generally available here or in Europe. You can get copies from the Japanese HMV site for about $45.00. They are part of what is called RCA Red Seal Vintage Collection. The inserts are in Japanese but do feature copies of the original LP covers in English. They are, of course, monaural but the sound on both is excellent. In fact, the sound is damn good, much better than the LPs. Both have the deep, rich bass line that Stokowski created by manipulating the tape to make his 46-man band sound like the 100+ Philadelphia.

For those of you who have read my previous reviews of recordings with HIS SO bear with me as I repeat some information about the orchestra. It was an ad hoc group pulled together by RCA just to make recordings with Stokowski. It included some of the finest musicians in the New York area, most from the New York Philharmonic. Robert Bloom played oboe, Mitchell Miller was on English horn in the Dvořák, James Chambers played the French horn solo in the Tchaikovsky, John Corigliano was Concert Master, Leonard Rose played viola and those are just the ones I am familiar with. The advent of tape opened up new means of making recordings. Not only was it possible to record long takes, afterwards, if you were so inclined and Stokowski was, you could go into the control room and fiddle with knobs to create a new sound. The two bass players could be made to sound like 8, strings could be increased from 14 to 40, etc. Using these fine players and tape Stokowski created records that were far superior in sound to anything being done at that time. Whoever is in charge of what is being produced in Japan has gone to the original tapes and used Stokowski's notations to make sure that we get The Stokowski Sound.

The Dvořák is possibly the most exciting Stokowski ever recorded. The only quibble about the sound in any of these recordings is in the first movement of this piece. Apparently over the years the tape underwent what is called "crunch" and there is some noise apparent if you crank up the volume. That is the only time, however, that this may be a slight bother. "Meeetchel" Miller does an excellent job in the slow movement. The last two are just plain awesome… a truly impressive "New World".

I have to confess. I spent several evenings listening to just the Enescu pieces. I had not heard them for a while and Stokowski really does a hell of a job bringing them to life. They are really marvelous works in his hands. One time I was listening and muttered, "Damn this is good."

The Tchaikovsky disc is just as good sonically and interpretively. Stokowski recorded the 5th Symphony three times in his career. The finale is also the music he is conducting at the opening of "100 Men and a Girl" He eliminates the pause before the final finale. The sound here cannot compete with the stereo recording he did for Decca but is still full and the Stokowski Sound is impressive. I cannot listen to anyone else's Nutcracker. Perhaps it is Fantasia but for me no one can capture the mystery and music better than Stokowski. Every other performance I have tried to listen to makes it sound saccharine.

What I cannot understand is why BMG doesn't release these discs here or in Europe. Apparently they have decided that it will sell in the orient but not the occident. Here are some facts. The packaging and fact that they are monaural recordings means that they are obviously targeting a specific audience. That audience exists here, too. I know because of the way in which I became aware of the existence of these discs. The tuba player in the second recording session of the Dvořák, Herbert Wekselblat, contacted me asking if I might be able to locate a copy of the disc. I researched and found out that these discs had been issued in January of 2002!

For what it is worth, I found it interesting that the Dvořák contains a list of the players on both days which is why I know how many there were.

Stokowski fans need to find some way to obtain these. The Dvořák will have even wider appeal.

Copyright © 2003, Robert Stumpf II