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Stokowski’s Classic 1947-49 Columbias Vol. 3 and live broadcasts
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No. 6 [29:16]
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Romeo and Juliet [19:07]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Symphony No. 35 Haffner [15:17]
Thomas Jefferson SCOTT From the Sacred Harp [7:46]
Jaromir WEINBERGER Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper [7:30]
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Rec. Carnegie Hall, 1949, RVW/Tchaikovsky licensed from Sony. Other tracks live concert performances
Produced in association with the Leopold Stokowski Society
CALA CACD0537 [78:58]

The third volume in the Stokowski-New York Philharmonic series has some surprises up its sleeve. We have previously little known live broadcasts, one a V-Disc, and two famous Stokowski recordings in the Vaughan Williams and Tchaikovsky. The VW6 has always been known and admired for its lithe, masculine sense of propulsion, for the galvanic intensity the conductor brings, in particular, to the first movement. It also embodies the pre-revised version of the Scherzo. And I suppose also the hectic, much too hectic, finale. But what about readers who already have Sony SMK58933, where the symphony is coupled with Mitropoulos’ equally electric VW4 and the Tallis Fantasia, issued a decade ago? For this issue Cala have had access to the original lacquer discs and remastering has gone right back to the source material. The difference in sound quality between the two is quite remarkable. The veil that hung over the Sony has been well and truly lifted and the benefits are those of transparency, immediacy, clarity and definition. From string choir entry points to something like the first movement triangle the aural advance is evident. Some might shy away from what they perceive as a brightness that lifts weight from the lower strings but I have to say in my listening experiments that the Cala wins every time.

The Tchaikovsky was one of Stokowski’s most effective – if controversial – interpretations, inasmuch as he imposed his famous quiet ending on the score (an artistic view of the work advanced by Balakirev and seconded by Modeste Tchaikovsky who quoted his brother’s approval). Anyway, it’s something that Stokowski invariably did and as we can hear in this transfer – again from the lacquer originals, we can hear how he did it in a way previously impossible from other transfers, even previous CD transfers – the gains in immediacy of texture are significant and revealing. Coupled with them are three works recorded in concert at Carnegie Hall in the same year, 1949. Mozart’s Haffner gets a real dusting down. He hustles through the opening Allegro con spirito as if he has a train to catch at Grand Central Station and manages to despatch the whole Symphony in fifteen minutes flat. Stokowski always maintained Mozart was his favourite composer but this is – so far – the only extant recording of a Symphony. His heavy, fast and ungenerous phrasing in the trio of the minuet will set some teeth on edge and in all honesty it and the symphony as a whole didn’t do much for me. Thomas Jefferson Scott’s From the Sacred Harp (self introduced in folksy style for the V-Disc audience; "Hi Fellers…") is a delightful and relaxed evocation, somewhat reminiscent in tone of Vaughan Williams, though winsome tangy winds and yearning strings rich in the American string tradition. There is unfortunately some pitch slippage along the way – was that inherent in the disc itself? Weinberger gets the treatment with his Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper – the orchestra was used to it because Barbirolli programmed quite a bit of Weinberger during his tenure as conductor of the NYPSO. It’s a bright, affectionate outing. I’ve just seen Rob Barnett’s review in which he mentions what sounds to him like a repeating groove in this track. I’m afraid I can’t comment because the last three minutes of my disc mistracked entirely on all three players I tried so something’s wrong somewhere.

Still, this is a strong entry in the Stokowski stakes and will leave dedicated Stokowskians (and/or Vaughan Williams adherents) with a dilemma. Given the sonic advance this issue represents should you invest in it or hang on to your Sony. It will depend, I think, on the couplings but as for the heart of the matter I do think the use of the lacquers has made this a necessary purchase even if you have the Sony.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett

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