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CD Review

BBC Legends

Leopold Stokowski

BBC Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (15 September 1964 mono)
* New Philharmonia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (10 September 1965 & 7 June 1973 mono & stereo)
BBC Legends 4115-2 77m ADD
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It may seem a bit odd to start with them, but I want to single out the notes in this disc. They are informative and interesting. Of course, there are a lot of other reasons for recommending this disc, but I wanted to let you know that some of what I am reporting here comes from Michael Jameson.

Stokowski first performed Sibelius' 2nd Symphony during his third season in Cincinnati. To have learned this piece in only his third year of conducting is an impressive feat. This particular recording was a result of his personal choice. He had been asked to program the Sibelius 7th but instead he suggested the 2nd saying, "In my opinion Sibelius' Second Symphony is more inspired than his Seventh." And he delivered an inspired account.

I normally dislike recordings that include audience applause but in this case I just about jumped up and joined them. As exciting as he could be in the studio he was even more so on stage. This can be realized if you listen to his commercial recording of the piece with the NBC Symphony Orchestra (on ReDiscovery 061) and then to this one. That 1954 recording was riveting but this one takes the music to another realm of existence. The monaural sound is excellent. In fact, at first I thought it might be stereophonic. Still, there is never too much of a good thing and you should also find some way to hear his December 1964 performance in Philadelphia. Certainly Stokowski gets HIS sound from the BBCSO but they aren't the Philadelphia. The chemistry that formed between the orchestra and The Maestro over the near 30 years they were together is still there. The recording is also fantastic. The only drawback is that it is part of a ten disc Centennial Collection from the Philadelphia Orchestra. Spend the money.

I would have recommended this disc if the only thing on it was the Sibelius but you get two lagniappes. Stokowski's Sleeping Beauty has never been bettered. Stokowski's sound (and he brought that out from any orchestra he led) brings to Tchaikovsky's music an added element that takes it to an almost metaphysical plane. For what it is worth Stokowski's is the only Nutcracker that I can stand. The others are too saccharine. The monaural sound is very good. The Beethoven is in stereo and, again an exciting and dramatic performance.

The BBC continues to provide us with gems and this one is a diamond.

(I notice that one of my colleagues on Classical.Net (Gerald Fenech) must know what he is talking about since he agrees with me about this disc. Of course he is much more succinct than I.)

Copyright © 2003, Robert Stumpf II