> BRAHMS Symphony 2 MENDELSSOHN Italian: Stokowski CACD0531 [JP]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op.73

Symphony No. 4 in A, Op.90, The Italian

National Philharmonic Orchestra (1972), conducted by Leopold Stokowski
recorded in EMI Studio One, Abbey Road, London, 4th ,5th & 9th April 1977 (Brahms) and 31st May, 2nd and 4th June 1977 (Mendelssohn). ADD
CALA CACD0531 [73.43]


Cala records


Cala is in the process or re-releasing recordings in association with the Leopold Stokowski Society, made by Leopold Stokowski throughout his long career. This disc contains two recordings originally issued on Columbia Masterworks and according to the sleeve are receiving their first release on CD. Both were recorded in the conductor’s 95th year, and if memory serves me correctly, was recorded in the same series of sessions as Bizet’s Symphony, currently available on a two disc compendium of works by Bizet.

There is an exhilaration in both performances which is relatively rare in the recording studio. This is not due entirely to speed, but is within the spirit of the playing. We can put this down entirely to the skill of the conductor, orchestra and their recording team. In addition, the phrasing of the playing is long-breathed in the Beecham manner, so phrases are made to sing and hold together to make an integrated whole. Both performances have the first movement repeats which were omitted from much earlier recordings made by the conductor.

Indeed, both recordings are not perhaps what many might expect from Stokowski – no tampering with the score (as far as I can tell), just thoroughly good performances recorded in first rate sound. These make the omission of other Stokowski recordings from the catalogue even more regrettable. It is to be hoped that Cala will rectify the deletion strategy of the majors which is even less understandable in the light of hearing this disc.

The Mendelssohn Italian Symphony starts out with an allegro vivace which is just that – allegro rather than presto and very vivace – it really bounces along without making its effect by headlong speed. Towards the end of the development, we get an impression of real growth in the musical argument which we can sense through the playing. If we then add near perfection in the balance of woodwind against strings, this is obviously an outstanding recording. The second movement, andante con moto does just that – it moves without becoming bogged down in romantic stasis. We have more con moto in the third movement, and this movement in other hands often sounds as though it should be in a much larger structure. Here, it is light and breathes with life. The last movement, often taken at a breakneck speed to give the impression of excitement here is more leisurely but still is clearly a presto. The difference is that at a slightly slower speed, each of Mendelssohn’s delicate details in the movement are clearly evident.

The Brahms 2nd Symphony is another of these minor miracles of interpretation, all the more impressive when we realise that the conductor was 95 years young. Stokowski seems to have more life in his little finger than many a younger conductor appears to be able to muster in his / her whole body.

First movement repeat again for those to whom this is important, but far more important to my mind is the sense of organic growth in the playing as Brahm’s miraculous first movement progresses to its inevitable conclusion. This performance is not one to replace other illustrious performances such as Abbado, Barbirolli, Karajan and Walter, but will complement these perfectly. The second movement again moves beautifully and displays a real sense of growth throughout its length. When we come to the third movement, allegretto there are clearly defined paragraphs in the movement, such as at the end of the middle section, where the lead in to the reprise seems just to do that, a real paragraph in the structure.

We then move to the finale, which again moves inexorably to the final brilliant coda without sounding in the least bit rushed and yet providing real excitement from within.

Throughout, the playing of the National Philharmonic Orchestra is accurate, musical and full of life. Their playing has been encapsulated in a recording which is not spectacular at all, merely very musical, and projecting the interpretation of our veteran conductor with all the fidelity which one could possibly hope for.

A pair of wonderful performances, beautifully recorded and presented. More please.

John Phillips

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