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CD Review

Stokowski Conducts French Music

Stokowski Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Cala CACD0548
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There are many reasons to purchase this disc; one of them it to hear the Debussy. Stokowski recorded the piece in stereo with the New York Philharmonic on Everest but that recording included only three of the pieces. What a shame because the omitted items (Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum, Serenade for the Doll, The Snow is Falling) are possibly the best. This is really interesting music with an oriental flavor.

Another reason is to hear some of the finest solo playing you'll ever experience. Listen to Bob Bloom's oboe solos in the second movement of the symphony, especially towards the end, and then compare them with that in the final recording Stokowski made. Bloom's is so much more sensual and, for lack of a better word, beautiful. The latter, while good, is not in the same league by far. As so often with His Ad Hoc orchestra, the whole band sounds like they're having a good time making music.

Who the hell said you can't dance to classical music never listened to the end of L'Arlésienne…. The soloists are duly credited in the fine notes and, also in comparison with those in the latter recording, are better. Phrasing is different, bringing out more feeling and, where needed, fun. The horns that open (8) just blow me away when I hear them.

A final reason to get this disc is the sound, as usual for Cala, is excellent. I've shared this story before, but it is still apt. Several years ago I had a friend, Al Franz, who was convinced that LPs sounded better than CDs. He had state-of-the-art audiophile equipment (his interconnect wires were $500.00) and often would opine "there's more sound in those grooves than most people hear." The Leopold Stokowski Society has been using LPs as the master source for their recent releases and this certainly gives proof to Al's theory. While it is monaural, Stokowski was using techniques that helped spot-light solos or sections of the orchestra so that it sounds like early stereo. The strings, as usual, produce a ravishing sound. At one point in the symphony I thought I heard a harp, but no, it is simply Stokowski weaving his magic once again.

The insert notes include the covers from the records when they were issued. This lagniappe is nice, too. (According to the covers, the Bizet was taken from 45-rpm records, which, of course, had a better fidelity than LPs).

The disc makes for an excellent evening of listening.

Copyright © 2008 by Robert Stumpf II