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Leopold Stokowski - Orchestral Transcriptions
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582
Overture (Suite) No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068: II. Air, Air on a G String
Was mir behagt, BWV 208, "Hunt Cantata": Aria: Sheep may safely graze
Fugue in G minor, BWV 578, Little Fugue
Komm süsser Tod, BWV 478
Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4: Jesus Christus Gottes Sohn
St. John Passion, BWV 245: Aria: Es ist vollbracht!
Clavierubung III: Wir glauben all' an einem Gott, BWV 680 ‘Giant’ Fugue
Orgelbuchlein: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 599
Two Ancient Liturgical Melodies
George Frederic HANDEL (1865-1759)
Messiah, HWV 56, Part I: Pastoral Symphony, "Pifa"
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas, Z. 626: When I am laid in earth, "Dido's Lament"
All arrangements by L. Stokowski
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK, 29-30 June 2005. DDD
NAXOS 8.557883 [67:51]
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Stokowski’s transcriptions - but not recorded by Stokowski?
Yes, but how brilliantly they sound on this marvellous new Naxos release conducted by José Serebrier who is served by excellent Naxos sound. Serebrier, who contributes the concise, readable and erudite notes, was, for five years, Stokowski’s Associate Conductor at New York’s Carnegie Hall and was hailed by Stokowski as “the greatest master of orchestral balance”.
Serebrier’s readings of Stokowski’s arrangements are studied: meticulous attention paid to orchestral colour, detail, perspectives, clarity and transparency, dynamics, accents and phrasing.
One of the most affecting selections is Stokowski’s arrangement of Two Ancient Liturgical Melodies: the ninth century Veni Creator Spiritus (‘Come Holy Ghost, Our Souls Inspire’) and the lovely medieval Veni Emmanuel, the tune familiar to us at Christmastide and used by Respighi in his Three Botticelli Pictures. The two melodies, Veni Emmanuel climaxing in a joyous outburst, are prefaced and separated by gently receding, tolling bells. The arrangement of Handel’s Pastoral Symphony continues in the same beauteous serenity. Even more affecting is Stokowski’s arrangement of Purcell’s Dido music; strings expressively layered and nuanced, and accents, and solo cello phrasing sensitively enhancing the sobbing pathos of this great Lament.
But the emphasis in this collection is rightly on Stokowski’s Bach transcriptions. The main work is the glorious Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor. For the first performance of his transcription, Stokowski wrote: “[It] is in music what a great Gothic Cathedral is in architecture – the same vast conception, the same soaring mysticism given eternal form. Whether played on the organ, or on the greatest of all instruments - the orchestra – it is one of the most divinely-inspired contrapuntal works ever conceived.” Indeed. Stokowski’s arrangement reflects the sonorous magnificence of a great cathedral organ and Serebrier delivers an inspired reading that reaches such a glorious tingling climax, it should leave you breathless.
The remaining items are winsome transcriptions of favourite Bach pieces, Stokowski cleverly changing the voicing, to maintain interest and attain an appealing freshness, of each repeat of the tune, that has attained pop-culture status, of Air on the G string; and employing minimal forces - strings and two flutes and two oboes - to tellingly underline the tender fragility of Sheep may safely graze. The contrapuntal magnificence of the ‘Giant’ and ‘Little’ fugues is wondrously magnified in the full colours of the large symphony orchestra and the deeply felt poignancy of Komm süsser Tod is nicely realised, lower woodwinds and brass affectingly emulating the gravitas of the organ pedal. Another sublime realisation is the Stokowski arrangement of Bach’s touching Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland. (Come Thou Redeemer of our Race).
This album is one of the best packaged of Naxos’s releases mostly, I suspect, because the recording was “made possible through generous grants from the Leopold Stokowski Society and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Endowment Trust”. In addition to Serebrier’s notes, there is a contribution, “Stokowski and Bach” by Edward Johnson of the Leopold Stokowski Society, and reproductions of three letters, dating from 1964/65, from Stokowski to Serebrier, one of which includes this rather enigmatic, cheeky assertion: “It is quite the contrary at Trivi where we need a strong man who plays soccer, and always brings a different girl.”
Sheer magnificence. Heartily recommended.
Ian Lace


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