The Heart of the Ballet was an
RCA Victor set dedicated to propagating
popular items for neophytes to the medium.
As the agent of emancipation, elucidation
and excitement they rightly chose Stokowski
and his hand-picked Symphony Orchestra,
players principally drawn from the desks
of the New York Philharmonic. Together
they set down an album of allure, sweep
and curvaceous charm, all testifying
to Stokowski’s effortless élan
There’s some luscious
pointing in the Giselle moments, all
four minutes of them; Michael Rosenker,
the associate concertmaster of the NYPO
takes the solo role; I’d thought, wrongly
as it turns out reading Edward Johnson’s
characteristically fine notes, that
the soloist here was Louis Gabowitz.
Le Spectre de la Rose receives
a sweeping and dramatic reading; cellist
Laszlo Varga is spotlit and one can
hear Robert Bloom adding his own distinguished
patina to the soundscape. Les Sylphides
was orchestrated by Leroy Anderson and
Peter Bodge. It’s full of charm but
it’s certainly not for the purist who
would doubtless wish to disdain the
Hawaiian rubato and naughty Chopinesque
There are two excerpts
from Swan Lake – the Dance of the Swan
Queen and the Dance of the Little Swans.
John Corigliano is the violin soloist
here, oboist supreme Bloom reprises
all his familiar virtues, Laszlo Varga
too; the clarinettist is David Oppenheim.
For The Heart of the Ballet album
there was only room for the Waltz of
the Flowers from The Nutcracker; fortunately
soon afterwards Stokowski recorded the
whole suite, a work he’d first recorded
back in 1926. We hear the whole thing
here and as ever strong soloistic personalities
are fashioned by Stokowski into playing
of plangency, personality and brilliant
The Debussy comes from
an earlier 1949 session but its presence
here won’t be accounted a misfortune.
Stokowski’s languor and evocative fashioning
is splendid though I happen to find
flautist John Wummer’s vibrato excessive.
We end with, in effect, an encore in
the shape of the Ballet des
Sylphes from The Damnation
and collectors will like to note the
following; this is his only recording
of the Giselle and Les Sylphides; that
there’s an (unpublished?) Hollywood
Bowl 1946 recording of the Sylvia extracts
but nothing else. The major works here
he recorded multiply.
The companion disc
reviewed is by Cameo Classics and it
too presents the Nutcracker Suite, adding
"Aurora’s Wedding", which
a one act ballet selected by Serge Diaghilev
from Sleeping Beauty. I’ve reviewed
the performance in Cala’s own restoration
and you can read the review here.
This new Heart of
the Ballet disc has not been transferred
from the master tapes but from commercial
copies. It sounds, in that hackneyed
phrase, beautifully mellow and warm.
The Cameo Nutcracker has been rawly
transferred from an LP with attendant
pops and ticks. And yet for once I’m
rather disappointed by the Cala. Warm
it may be but it lacks immediacy and
definition. The sound is rather dull
and artificial reverberation has been
added to no advantage. The running pizzicati
of the March for example don’t ring
out, and the harp glitter is muted in
the concluding Waltz of the Flowers.
Too much top has been muzzled and subsumed
into a mid frequency haze. The Cameo
Classics is very much warts and all
but it rather graphically shows what
has been done to the Cala Nutcracker.
Jonathan Woolf is incorrrect
in saying that he'd previously reviewed
Stokowski's performance of "Aurora's
Wedding" in Cala's own restoration.
That was quite a different recording
to the one just issued by Cameo Classics,
whose CDs are run off singly to order,
rather than mass produced. Stokowski's
second recording of the work was made
in London in 1974 for CBS/Sony by the
94-year-old conductor and licensed for
release on the Cala label. The earlier
mono RCA Victor New York version was,
as stated in the heading, made in 1953,
and is as splendid as the stereo re-make.