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CD Review

Stokowski in the USSR

Live: 17 June 1958

USSR State TV & Radio Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Scora 009

Stokowski was a year old when Wagner died and 11 when Tchaikovsky passed away. Perhaps I find that information more interesting than you, but to me it places the notion of contemporary music in a different frame when we think of Stokowski. He conducted the March from the "Pathétique" in his debut as a conductor in the 'arranged' concert in Paris. Later that year, in Cincinnati, he led the orchestra in the complete symphony. This was a mere 16 years after it was written. By today's standards that would constitute contemporary music.

In 1958 Stokowski toured the USSR. Whilst he was paid handsomely, you were not allowed to take money you made outside of Russia at that time. So, among other things, Stokowski bought a refrigerator for the translator who accompanied him. This Scora release is the second to emerge from that tour. The first, a performance of Shostakovich's 11th had sound that was horrid, but a performance of such feeling that it surpassed the Maestro's famed recording from Houston. Okay, now how about this release from Scora? I wish I could be more enthusiastic but I can't. The sound, from what I assume is an AM television broadcast, is fair. It is certainly better than the Shostakovich 11th (on Russian Disc 5028) but the strings are thin and the brass bray. What precludes a recommendation more than anything, however, is an announcer who suddenly starts yelling what the next piece will be. It is jarring especially after the soft close of the "Pathétique". The other problem is that whilst the performances are definitely of the Stokowski sound, the seamless strings and dark bass, they just aren't among the best you can hear from other sources. The other other problem is the fact that it is difficult to get a copy (available only on Tower HMV Japan) and expensive to boot ($20-$25 and that is dollars).

All-in-all, then, only for someone, like me who has to have everything from Stokowski's hands. Two stars.

Copyright © 2004, Robert Stumpf II