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www.andante.com

Leopold Stokowski conducts the music of Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
CD 1 – 74.09

1 Rienzi: Overture
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 18 November 1926 and 6 January 1927
Source: Victor 6624/5
Matrix: CVE-37004, 37700/12
Lohengrin: Prelude to Act I

Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 13 October 1927
Source: Victor 6791
Matrix: CVE-30021/223
Lohengrin: Prelude to Act III 3:20
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 27 March 1940
Source: Victor 17568-B (M-731)
Matrix: CS-0478154-8
Das Rheingold: Symphonic Synthesis 23:10
Arranged by Leopold Stokowski
4 Prelude; "Song of the Rheinmaidens" 4:55
5 "Alberich Steals the Gold" 2:59
6 "Wotan and Loge Descend into Nibelheim" 3:17
7 "Erda's Warning" 4:45
8 "Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla" 7:14
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Camden, Trinity Church Studio, 4 March 1933
Source: Victor 7796/8 (M-179)
Matrix: CS-75117-1/78-2/80-2/81-2/83-1/84-1
9-12 Die Walküre: excerpts 28:17
9 "Siegmund Comforts Sieglinde" 4:21
10 "Ride of the Valkyries" 4:45
11 "Brünnhilde Pleads Before Wotan" 2:28
12 "Wotan's Farewell and Magic Fire Music" 16:43
Lawrence Tibbett (baritone, track 12)
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Camden, Trinity Church Studio No. 2, 30 April 1934
Source: Victor 8542/5 (M-248)
Matrix: CS-83102/09 (all take 1)
CD 2 - 73:04

1 Die Walküre: "Magic Fire Music" (orchestral version) 8:19
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 9 April 1939
Source: Victor 15800
Matrix: CS 035419/20
2-5 Siegfried: excerpts 17:45
2 "The Wanderer Questions Mime" 0:44
3 "Nothung! Nothung!" 3:28
4 "Forest Murmurs" 8:19
5 Act III finale 5:14
Agnes Davis (soprano, track 5), Frederick Jagel (tenor, tracks 3 and 5)
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Camden, Trinity Church Studio No. 2, 10 December 1934
Source: Victor 14845/7-A (M-441)
Matrix: CS-87015/19 (all take 1)
6-8 Götterdämmerung: excerpts 42:31
6 "Dawn and Siegfried's Rhine Journey" 11:14
7 "Siegfried's Death and Funeral Music" 12:56
8 "Brünnhilde's Immolation" and finale 18:21
Agnes Davis (soprano, track 8)
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Camden, Trinity Church Studio, 25 March, 29 April and 28 October 1933
Source: Victor 7843/7 (M-188)
Matrix: CS-75626-1/27-1/29-1/30-1/32-1/33-2/76-1/77-1/79-1/80-2
9 Götterdämmerung: finale 4:25
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 6 January 1927
Source: Victor 6625-B
Matrix: CVE-37702-2 
CD 3 - 74:50

1 Tannhäuser: Overture and Venusberg Music (Paris version) 24:17
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 23 September 1929, 14 March and 29 April 1930
Source: Victor 7262/4 (M-78)
Matrix: CVE 51875/80
2 Tannhäuser: Overture and Venusberg Music (Paris version) 22:49
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Chorus of 17 female voices,
Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 12 December 1937
Source: Victor 15310/2 (M-530)
Matrix: CS-014382/87
3 Tannhäuser: Prelude to Act III 10:23
Arranged by Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 15 January 1936
Source: Victor 15313/4a (M-530)
Matrix: CS-94651/53
4 Tannhäuser: Overture (Dresden version) 13:02
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Camden, Trinity Church Studio, 7 November and 5 December 1921
Source: Victor 74758, 74759, 74768
Matrix: C 22808, C 22814, C 24999
5 Tannhäuser: Fest March "Entry of the Guests" 4:17
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Camden, Trinity Church Studio, 28 April 1924
Source: Victor 6478B
Matrix: C 29051
CD 4 - 72:53

1-3 Tristan und Isolde: Symphonic Synthesis (first version) 35:19
Arranged by Leopold Stokowski
1 Prelude to Act I 9:40
2 "Potion Music" 3:31
3 "Liebesnacht"; "Liebestod" 22:08
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Camden, Trinity Church Studio No. 1, 16 and 23 April 1932
Source: Victor 7621/4 (M-154)
Matrix: CS-72062/3, 72065/6, 72068/9, 72071, 72075
4-6 Tristan und Isolde: Symphonic Synthesis (second version) 37:31
Arranged by Leopold Stokowski
4 Prelude to Act I 9:45
5 "Liebesnacht" and Act II finale 23:05
6 "Liebestod" 4:41
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 5 April and 7 November 1937 (track 4), 16 and 30 December 1935 (track 5), 20 April 1939 (track 6)
Source: Victor 15202/3A (track 4), 15203B/6S (M-508) (track 5), 15206S (track 6)
Matrix: CS-07553/5 (track 4), CS-94624/9 (track 5), CS-72075-2 (track 6) 
CD 5 - 72:15

1-3 Wesendonck Lieder: selections 15:25
1 III "Im Treibhaus" 7:26
2 V "Träume" 4:23
3 IV "Schmerzen" 3:36
Helen Traubel (soprano)
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 22 December 1940
Source: Victor 18403/4 (M-872)
Matrix: CS 057569/72
4 Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Prelude to Act I 9:27
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 15 January 1936
Source: Victor 17567/68a (M-731)
Matrix: CS-94644/46
5 Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Prelude to Act III 6:49
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Camden, Trinity Church Studio No. 1, 17 March 1931
Source: Victor 1584
Matrix: BVE-64078/9
6 Parsifal: Prelude to Act I 14:32
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 28 November 1936
Source: 14728/1
Matrix: CS-03116/9
7 Parsifal: Act III: "Good Friday Spell" 11:50
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 28 November 1936
Source: Victor 14730/1 (M-421)
Matrix: CS-03120/3
8 Parsifal: Symphonic Synthesis from Act III 14:09
Arranged by Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Stokowski (conductor), Philadelphia Orchestra
Camden, Trinity Church Studio No. 2, 7 April 1934
Source: Victor 8617/8
Matrix: CS-82176/9
ANDANTE AND 1130 [1131-1135] [5 CDs 367.11]

I should first say that I am working from a review copy of this set and so I hope I don’t labour points that are clear in Andante’s documentation. Having only the discs and discographical details I won’t be able to comment on the format so I should at least advise what you will be getting, details I’ve taken from their website. Andante provide a book-format set with a 144-page companion book featuring text and photographs and ancillary documentation of Stokowski and Wagner. Texts are in English, French and German and include an introduction by Tim Page and an essay by Jed Distler. Artist biographies are from The New Grove - with whom Andante seem to have some arrangement - and transfers are by hard working Ward Marston (do he and Mark Obert-Thorn ever stop to eat?). They use a process called CAP 440, which I assume has been used here – 24 bit remastering, and CEDAR noise reduction.

Covering just under twenty years, from 1921-40 this 5 CD set takes us from the acoustic era to those fantastic sounding Victors, in overtures, preludes, extrapolated scenes, chunks, bleeding or otherwise, and of course the fabled Stokowskian symphonic syntheses. I’ve only recently reviewed Cala’s retrieval of a later Parsifal synthesis so we are now in the fortunate position of having a great deal of his Wagner on disc. Pearl has a series of these earlier Wagner recordings (their Parsifal for example is on Gemm CD 9448) and the Pearl volumes are the only real rivals to this luxury Andante product. I must say I like the Pearl transfers – their policy is unchanged on surface noise but they do capture the power and range of the early to mid 30s Victors with real eviscerating drama - and there is no treble cut. Looking further afield Grammofono put out a 1997 double set that took in a selection of them – but I would prefer Pearl’s sound quality – and Preiser CD 89120 has the Traubel Wesendonck Lieder, a set for Traubel admirers as it also includes her Gluck, Richard Strauss and much more Wagner. If you find RCA CD GD87808 it has the 1934 the Tibbett-Wotan’s Farewell amongst others.

Those unfamiliar with Stokowski’s Wagner will be in for a glorious six hours worth of music making. Frustrating too for the obvious reasons of brevity of excerpts, but revealing nevertheless of his preoccupations and priorities when it came convincingly to depict Wagner on disc. The orchestra, it hardly needs spelling out, is a colossally splendid instrument. They rise to peaks of effulgence and incandescence on occasions too numerous to mention, galvanized by Stokowski’s intensely dramatic, frequently incinerating leadership. Though the strings are frequently cited as the principal glory of the orchestra during this period I would also draw attention to the often overlooked brass – and they bear a sizeable role in these discs, acquitting themselves with every bit as much distinction as their more celebrated colleagues in the strings and at the woodwind desks.

There were some real highlights among these "highlights" and also some other points worth mentioning. Even Marston hasn’t been able to do much to open out the March 1933 Rheingold Symphonic Synthesis. It’s finely played and a convincing traversal but there was always something opaque about the sound quality of Victor 7796/98 – one of the few Victor disappointments from this series. On this first disc we also have the Tibbett-Wotan. I don’t believe this stayed long in the catalogue and as a performance it has had more than its fair share of detractors, not least because he never sang it on stage. I happen to like it; I like Tibbett’s bel canto ease and I definitely like Stokowski’s handling of the orchestral accompaniment. There are more points of interest in the second disc. This starts with a voluptuary’s delight – the 1939 Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre. What a sound! Those fiery brass, that effulgent string tone…Immediately following it we have excerpts from Siegfried from December 1934, sung by Agnes Davis and Frederick Jagel. This is a variably successful recording. Davis was a greatly admired teacher and performer and Jagel had a notable career but they are not at their best here. I admired once more the orchestral gravity behind Jagel but he barks high up and she is effortful in the Act III finale. This would have been dwarfed as a performance by the contemporary Heger/Coates/Alwin Victor set. The disc ends with Götterdämarung, the more obvious excerpts and the finale. Agnes Davis is again on hand for Brünnhilde’s Immolation where she sounds rather squally. The orchestra meanwhile proves as nobly eloquent in Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music as it earlier had in the verdant Forest Murmurs from Siegfried. I’m slightly less taken with Stokowski’s Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey – it’s all just a touch bluff and exterior for my liking, though I’m sure others will think otherwise.

We have two different recordings of the Overture and Venusberg Music (Paris version) from Tannhäuser to start the third disc. The first dates from 1930 but in 1937 Victor repeated it, this time adding the chorus of seventeen female voices. The later recording is greatly superior. It’s more incisive, the strings are more alert and coiled, the brass more assertive and powerful – the solos are more characterful as well. I admired the prelude to Act III of Tannhäuser – the oboe is striking in its eloquence, there is a beautifully nuanced flexibility to it, and the strings are layered and weighted with superb gradation. The disc ends with two acoustics – the Dresden Tannhäuser Overture, recorded in 1921 and the Entry of the Guests, set down in April 1924. Sound quality here is not problematical in the slightest to anyone who has ears to listen, though I favoured a bass cut in the Overture. Sound five has two Tristan Symphonic Syntheses. The first version was recorded in 1932 and the second version in 1937. In both he retains the Prelude to Act 1 but differences occur subsequently. In the earlier recording the Potion Music occupies the central panel finished by the Liebesnacht and Liebestod but in the later one Stokowski puts weight on the central section if the Liebesnacht and Act 1 finale reserving weight for the Liebestod as his "finale." There’s some surface noise here in the earlier version but certainly not enough to efface or obscure Stokowski’s dramatic sforzati and string moulding and intensely romanticised spirit. From a musical point of view the later recording is again superior. There’s less exaggeration and more engagement with the essentials of the music making. There are however a few thumps on the disc that Andante have given to Ward Marston and he hasn’t been able to mask the bumps. I don’t want to make too much of it – there are another couple of examples elsewhere in the set – but I was slightly disappointed that Andante hadn’t found better copies. Those familiar with playing 78s can, however, gauge to some extent how noise suppression works from the way in which Marston has attempted to limit the damage.

The final disc brings together the three Traubel Wesendonck lieder – all that was recorded – the Prelude to Acts I and III of Die Meistersinger and the 1934-36 Parsifal recordings. Many swear by her but I find Traubel really too immobile and drenched in the opera house ambience for the lieder; of then contemporary singers Tiana Lemnitz and Lotte Lehmann were far more flexible and idiomatic. Schmerzen is a particular case in point – particularly declamatory. In the Prelude to Act I of Die Meistersinger Stokowski explicitly contrasts the brass and strings in a way that is both indicative of his orchestrally based approach and also rather fussy – his way with the contrapuntalism is also rather elastically unconvincing. When it comes to the Prelude to Act I of Parsifal we find that the brass is well blended and the strings are nicely layered but the reading as a whole is a touch superficial. There is some manicured phraseology here and there, and whilst I wouldn’t want automatically to invoke the hallowed name of Knappertsbusch as an example of nobility and depth, thus to beat Stokowski, I can’t help feeling there’s justice in it. Stokowski simply can’t evoke the ritual and power and what lies behind them. I must also mention that the copies used also suffer from the brief – but still noticeable – thumps already referred to above. They have been none-too-well concealed here and I must put in a plea to Andante to search out the very finest, unblemished copies for their premium priced sets.

A strong welcome then generally for this set. Those who like a more treble orientated sonority with a commensurate increase in surface noise may like to try one of the Pearls. Others will welcome this comprehensive and alluring example of Stokowski’s art at its most ardent and will revel in the sound of the Philadelphia’s Wagnerian passion.

Jonathan Woolf



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