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CD Review

Stokowski – BBC Legend

New Philharmonia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (May 1974)
* London Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (September 1964)
BBC Legends BBCL4205-2
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The New Philharmonia Orchestra performance was Stokowski's penultimate public performance. Those items were previously released in 1995 on an IMP BBC Radio Classics CD. At that time I gave the disc a four star rating and wrote:

"These are from a concert on 4 May 1974. Klemperer was better known as a conductor but, as the notes point out, he was a considerable composer whose works include 6 symphonies, choral works, quartets and songs. This concert also came just before Stokowski recorded the Brahms with the same orchestra. Some people find the Brahms a bit too "allegro" and not enough "non troppo" in the first movement. The sound here is good. At this writing, none of these has been issued on the BBC label."

Well, now it has been released on the BBC label and the sonic improvements are amazing. There is more presence and air around the music. The notes discuss the performances and provide interesting details. For example, Michael Jameson talks about a meeting between Daniel Barenboim and Klemperer in 1969. "… he found [Klemperer] slumped disconsolately in front of the television. 'What's the matter, Otto?' Barenboim asked. 'I've just been watching Stokowski conduct Beethoven's Fifth,' stammered Klemperer. 'Was it so terrible?' Barenboim enquired. 'NO,' thundered Klemperer, 'it was VERY good!" (This 1969 performance can be seen in EMI's BBC Classic Archive DVD 4928439. I watched it and noted that Stokowski used eight double basses along the back of the orchestra).

The performances are all vintage Stokowski. The audience is polite in their reaction to the Klemperer and greets the end of the Ravel with what must have been a standing ovation. As a rule I prefer my Brahms 4th more autumnal, in the mode of Bruno Walter, but Stokowski provides a compelling alternative with more emotional "life-and-death" struggle. He went on to record the piece commercially for RCA a few months after this performance.

The Novacek is from a different performance and a welcome lagniappe. I gave the earlier release four stars, this is five.

Copyright © 2007, Robert Stumpf II