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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Leopold Stokowski
Peter I TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Nutcracker Suite
Michail IPPOLITOV-IVANOV (1859-1935)
In the Manger orch Stokowski
Alexander GLAZUNOV (1865-1936)
Danse Orientale from Scenes de Ballet
Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Scheherazade
Alexander Hilsberg, violin
Philadelphia Orchestra
Leopold Stokowski, conductor
Recorded 1927-1934
CALA CACD 0521 [69.34]


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I recently listened to two of Stokowski’s final recordings, of symphonies by Brahms and Mendelssohn (Cala CACD 0531), taped in 1977 shortly after his 95th birthday. Far from the grand seignorial nonagenarian, utterly unlike a sunset valediction these architecturally and sonically impressive traversals commanded nothing but the most august praise and oddly put me in mind of this 1934 Scheherazade, one of the imperishable classics of the gramophone. He had recorded truncated excerpts acoustically in Philadelphia and in 1927 had gone on to record the complete symphonic suite, a much-admired set, currently available on Biddulph WHL010. The 1934 remake does, as Edward Johnson’s typically astute booklet notes observe, take significantly longer. His comment regarding the conductor’s use of portamento as a narrative device is well made and instructive, though I should add that colouristically and expressively it is an effect I feel misguidedly pervasive. It is certainly nowhere nearly as prevalent in his other recordings of the piece (the memorable London sessions of 1951 with the Philharmonia and 1964 with the LSO amongst them, nor in the live performances which have surfaced). Otherwise this is a consistently involving and gorgeously opulent recording, vibrantly played, not least by the Philadelphia’s leader of two decades, Alexander Hilsberg, who is memorable in his solo role. Russian-born Hilsberg was later to wield the baton himself, having had plenty of experience under Stokowski, and in 1952 joined the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra as conductor. He was a leader in the Burgin and Piastro class, though maybe not as scintillating as the latter.

Elsewhere there is a considerable bonus in the suite from The Nutcracker. First recorded in 1926 this is another remake from 1934. Some of Stokowski’s rhythmic licence can be felt here and there; tempos are surprisingly solemn or fleet but the recording is still excellently alive and vivid in execution. The two makeweights by Ippolitov-Ivanov and Glazunov benefit from the Stokowskian treatment, the former explicitly because it’s an orchestration by the conductor; both are oriental morceaux well worth the hearing.

In his final years he returned to Scheherazade with the RPO, made in 1975 before those final symphonies of 1977, but it’s always been this recording I turn to, despite considerable temptation; something in it is something of the essence of Stokowski himself.

  Jonathan Woolf


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