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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor (1958) [38:58]
Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)

Symphony No. 2 Mysterious Mountain (1955) [18:49]
Wallingford RIEGGER (1885-1961)

New Dance Op. 18b (1942) [5:55]
Paul CRESTON (1906-1985)

Toccata Op. 68 (1957) [12:34]
Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra
rec. live, Carnegie Hall, 25 Sept 1958. ADD
CALA CACD0539 [73:17]


Cala are a firm with a mission. There are no half measures for them. They have done sterling work for Stokowski with support from The Leopold Stokowski Society and this continues with the present disc.

The RVW-Stokie connection has been well documented by Cala. CACD 0537 gave us a fine Sixth Symphony. CACD0528 included his Fourth and now we have the Ninth. Are there more to come? I hope so.

This performance of the Vaughan Williams Ninth was the U.S. premiere of the work. Only one year previously Stokowski had conducted the Eighth Symphony with the LSO at the Royal Festival Hall.

The Symphony is recorded with gripping if unsubtle immediacy. Of course it is in mono and the Carnegie patrons are prone to coughing. For these reasons this must be counted as a supplementary version for enthusiasts of conductor and composer alike.

It is given a rattlingly good performance with a shimmering sense of fantasy and gob-smackingly idiosyncratic saxophone playing. Stokie does not stint on lyricism either: in the first movement try, at 7.10, the sweetly intoned solo violin. At 2.30 no-one has released such a sweet cantilena and this aspect returns in the quick string lullaby at 1.35. The trumpet solo at 7.50 (I) has more Quiet City overtones than we may be accustomed to in this work. The tricky rhythmic complexity in the 'Chinese march' at the start of the second movement foxes the players (1.34). Stokowski's finale loses focus and meanders but gathers itself at the end regaining this enigmatic work’s phantasmal enchantment.

Riegger's nervy and jazzy New Dance ripples with angular energy and punch. Every instrumental detail is transparently laid out. Riegger shows no sign of his grave dissonant persona. The crashing energy, related to the hammered out explosive rhythms of Roy Harris, must surely have been influenced by Harris. The Creston Toccata has that boisterous high-lying exuberance we hear in Roussel. However Creston he projects more humanity. Rumba-like jazzy figuration runs riot through the piece. It is more plushly orchestrated than the Riegger. Creston's dashing persona has the ascendancy. He is also a doughty lyrical writer but that facet is left to one side here. This work was written as a display vehicle for the Cleveland Orchestra.

Stokowski championed Hovhaness's music. Although it was Reiner and the Chicagoan who made the premiere recording of Mysterious Mountain it was Stokowski and Houston Orchestra who commissioned and premiered the work in 1955. Previously Stokowski had premiered Hovhaness's First Symphony The Exile with the NBC SO in 1942 with the world premiere having been given by Leslie Heward on the BBC. Stokowski is not of the view that ‘mysterious’ equals ‘slow’ for he takes the listener through this symphony in under nineteen minutes. The filmic glimmer and veiled shifting harmonic writing for strings à la Tallis in the two outer movements is blessed with Hovhaness's hieratic solo trumpet and other brass writing as well as chiming celesta. The central panel, with its fast-singing temple strings, recalls Martinů and even Suk although without the variety they would each have brought. At the heart of this section there is a fugally darting and streaming passage for massed violins.

The project is crowned by two atmospheric and heart-warming photos - one of a beaming Stokowski with RVW; the other of the conductor with Riegger, Creston, Hovhaness and Oliver Daniel. Daniel’s Estate, together with the Library of Congress and Voice of America (who made the original discs), made this release possible.

Each performance includes applause.

For recordings almost five decades old these tapes are in good heart. The first movement of the RVW symphony suffers a few tremors and at 1.29 in the central movement of the Hovhaness there is momentary damage but everything else is vivid and secure.

Live performances brimming with ardent power and fantasy in the case of the two symphonies. The Riegger and Creston are rife with lusty energy - display rather than emotional expression.

Rob Barnett

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