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Antonin DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in e minor, Op. 95 (1893) [38:25]
With introduction of themes by Stokowski [3:52]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Hungarian Dance no. 1 in g minor (1852) trans. Stokowski [3:17]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2 in d minor, S359 (1846) trans. Stokowski. [7:50]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Rakoczy Marck-The Damnation of Faust (1856) [3:37]
Ottokar NOVÁČEK (1866-1900)

Perpetuum Mobile-concert caprice (trans. 1917 by Stokowski) [3:21]
Geroge ENESCU (1881-1955)

Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A, Op. 11. (1901) [9:58]
The Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
The Leopold Stokowski Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (Enescu)
Recorded in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia 5 & 8 October 1927 (Dvořák); 6 October 1927 (commentary); 17 March 1934 At Church Studio Camden. NJ (Brahms); 18 November 1926 and 10 March 1927 (Liszt); 12 October 1927 (Berlioz); 8 December 1940 (Nováček). Enescu recorded at Lotus Club, New York City, 22 March 1947. MONO

LIVING ERA AJC 8552 [71:03]


 

Heretofore, Living Era have brought us quite a number of nostalgic reissues of great popular singers and instrumentalists from the early days of recording. It is exciting news indeed that this company is now delving into classical literature with a fresh handful of releases.

Leopold Stokowski was without question one of the great innovators in classical music, and was one of the earliest major musical figures to attempt to bring the art form to the masses. His was a banner that was not to be taken up again until Leonard Bernstein came along some decades later. Through the media of radio, film and recording, Stokowski became a household name, bringing great music to millions of listeners who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to enjoy it. He was constantly concerned with sound, and ever fascinated with technology, exploring a number of unique seating arrangements for the orchestra, and allowing the string sections to bow freely to maximize the richness of their tone. He was also the first major conductor to exploit the art of recording, keeping abreast on each new development in the technology, and anxiously recording and re-recording his repertoire in the best and newest sound quality available.

Stokowski was also an innovator in public persona, with his mysterious accent (Eastern European, in spite of his London birth and upbringing), his batonless conducting and his great shock of white hair; he became not only a musical star, but a Hollywood sex symbol as well.

He recorded Dvořák’s ninth symphony six times in all, and this is the second of these recordings, from 1927. He begins with an interesting little lecture on the symphony’s themes, stressing the now sometimes debated relationship of the composer’s music with Native American and African-American themes. The anachronistic terms "savage" and "Negro" crop up frequently in his discussion.

In spite of the abundant background noise from the original 78-rpm discs, this is still a dynamic and enjoyable rendition. Stokowski, unlike some of his colleagues from the era, did not indulge in overly lugubrious tempo choices, and of course, there is the glorious sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra, a sound that pervades to this day, and that is very much Stokowski’s creation. Listeners will have to use a bit of aural imagination as these source recordings have some limitations both in the depth of the sound (bass frequencies in particular are not as clear as one might wish) and the ever-present whir of surface noise. But this is a performance that is so rich in intensity, dynamic contrast and virtuoso playing that all the problems of an old recording are practically moot.

The smaller encore selections, many of them from the famous catalogue of Stokowski transcriptions are delightful to hear, and have far fewer sonic limitations given that they are somewhat younger recordings, and electronic recording and the introduction of magnetic tape did wonders for the improvement of sound in the thirties and forties.

Of particular merit is the Nováček, which employs some sensational playing by the violins. The intonation and ensemble in the very high registers is a marvel, doubly so at this lightening tempo. Although the Brahms and Liszt transcriptions can get a bit campy at times, they are still wonderful delights, and evoke memories of childhood first experiences with this music.

This release is clearly more about Stokie than the music, and that is as it should be. Program notes are thorough and informative, and the presentation is professional and interesting. This is a disc predominately for the fans of the conductor and for those who love historical recordings. But there are some musical delights that may also be of interest to the casual listener. Certainly this is a valid portrait of a time long gone in American music-making. Recommended.

Kevin Sutton



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