The Tchaikovsky 'poems' on this CD are reference versions.
They should be heard at least once by anyone who cares for these pieces
and indeed for Stokowski's non-conformist way with "old ones, new ones,
If these recordings are familiar it is down to their
long life in the catalogue from LP to CD. They were first issued, in
the case of the Tchaikovsky, in January 1959 on Everest SDBR 3011 with
the Scriabin following in November that year on SDBR 3032. The British
company Dell'Arte were given licence to issue these recordings in the
early 1990s and copies of that CD can, I believe, still be had at about
the same bargain price as this disc but minus the invaluable Poème
d'Extase, from Symposium. I have not been able to compare the two
versions but would be surprised if there is much difference.
Whether these were the first LP recordings of the Tchaikovsky,
I rather doubt though I cannot, off-hand, think who might have recorded
them before 1959 [Collins LXT5186 (1956), Kletzki 33CX1565
(1958)-LM]. However Stokowski put these works on the map with
performances of excoriating conviction. They still sound very good and
this is surely down to the fact that the stereo recordings were made
on 35mm stock and then in 1996 remastered by Omega using 20 bit digital
super bit mapping. The range of the recording still sounds phenomenal
with some exiguous quiets and loud passages with revelatory impact.
True there is a modicum of hiss but the sound is intrinsically secure,
embracingly steadfast, sturdy and with iron-clad clarity. The original
tapes must have been well cared for. I compare the otherwise fine 1960s
Decca tapes of Kertesz's Hary Janos where, on the recent Australian
Eloquence release, the first bar or so revealed a blemish that sounded
more like physical tape damage than signal saturation.
Stokowski is less of an eccentric than Golovanov (on
Boheme) in Francesca
(which I always think of as a work in which Tchaikovsky achieved
perfection of manner and substance) but he does speed things
up and slow them down with an exhilarating freedom. His orchestra howls
and flames (as in 06.27) so much so that you could swear he will come
to grief at any moment. Have hell's tornadoes sounded so vicious before?
His love theme is almost sybaritic. Hamlet has plenty of 'grunt',
aggression and 'thunder'. Once again, as in its companion, stereo separation
is used to grand theatrical effect. In the Scriabin the spotlighting
of instruments is very apparent largely sapping any sense of front-to-back
perspective. This softens the otherwise priapic trumpet solos. The effect,
in the round, is extremely persuasive and engaging and in Stokowski's
luxurious hands dreamy and filmic (13.57). The skipping and scudding
violins also point up the relationship with Stravinsky's Firebird
(a score often hinted at here). This is a staggeringly well sustained
interpretation if sui generis because of its sybaritic immersion.
Oh yes, and the Stadium SO is none other than the New
York Phil using the name it adopted for its summer season concerts at
the Lewisohn Stadium (1918-66).