Symphony No. 5 in e minor, Op. 64. [44:20] Modest
MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881) Khovanschina: Act IV Prelude[4:19] Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod[16:02] Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun [11:07]
Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra (Debussy)/Leopold Stokowski
rec. live, Straβenbahner-Waldheim, Stuttgart, 20 May
1955; Sendesaal des HR, Frankfurt, 31 May 1955 (Debussy) GUILD GHCD2329 [76:50]
our twenty-first century vantage point, it is easy to conclude
that Leopold Stokowski was an old school conductor dedicated
to the repertoire that we know today as the core. But it
is pertinent to remember that at the time of Stokowski’s
birth in 1882, all but one of the composers on this recording
were still very much alive. Tchaikovsky had yet to compose
his fifth symphony, Wagner was putting the finishing touches
to Parsifal, and Debussy’s landmark Prelude to
the Afternoon of a Faun was still ten years in the future.
Leopold Stokowski was very much a child of his time, and
more importantly, he was a visionary. He leapt at technology
and was fascinated with recording, constantly experimenting
with orchestral seating, microphone placement and he even
tweaked the orchestration of classics for what he perceived
to be a better effect. This latter practice, while to our
now well-established sense of so-called authenticity seems
sacrilegious, was a common practice of the day with composers
and conductors from Mahler to Toscanini mucking with works
that we now consider to be religious relics. Stokowski had
a great respect for the past, and through his transcriptions
and even completions of works by composers such as Mussorgsky,
left us with a vast treasure that might otherwise have been
lost. Taken at their face value, his “paraphrases” for orchestra
of music from grand operas are delightful and most worthy
works of art for their own sakes.
this remarkable collection, Guild have assembled music from
two 1955 Broadcast concerts from Stuttgart and Frankfurt
respectively. Not only is this remarkable music-making, but
it is a major plus to have recordings of a British conductor
in Germany at a time when such collaborations were rare.
Opening with music that through the efforts first of Rimsky-Korsakov
and later Stokowski himself would be known as the Prelude
to Act IV of Khovanschina, we are treated to the kind
of rich and colorful sound that was a Stokowski calling-card.
His timeless reputation for being able to mold an orchestra
into a glorious sound machine in record time is borne out
in this supple performance.
comes the Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, a work which was
composed during the conductor’s lifetime, and which became
a staple of his concerts and his commercial recordings. There
is no shortage of drama in this performance, and Stokie doesn’t
allow maudlin sentimentality to overtake the score. His tempos
are brisk and his sense of forward motion is palpable and
exciting. The only flaw here might be some over-blowing in
the brass section, which usually sounds very out of tune
in the blazing triple fortes. It’s exciting, but at the same
time, a bit ugly.
Wagner Prelude and Liebestod is a Stokowski arrangement,
and would become one of his most popular concert and recorded
works. It receives loving and passionate treatment here,
with a string sound that is glorious even in a recording
that is a bit compromised by its age. Again the brass sounds
over-heated and out of tune, but I am beginning to wonder
by this point if that is more of a problem with the sound
source than with the playing itself.
famous Prelude is given some pretty aggressive treatment
in this rendition. No tender petting zoo creature here. Rather
Stokowski coaxes some pretty solid and colorful playing from
the Frankfurt Radio Symphony. What it lacks in subtlety,
it more than regains in the breathtaking sweep of the phrases.
never cease to be amazed at the treasures that the Guild
Company continues to find for our enjoyment. They are to
be commended for their finely re-mastered sound and even
for the wonderful nostalgia trip that they induce with these
gems. Robert Matthew-Walker has written an excellent biographical
essay of the conductor that is made all the more noteworthy
by its careful attention to placing these recordings in a
proper historical context. One could however wish for the
same careful attention to detail in the cover art, which
through a careless lack of proofing tells us that the three
nineteenth century composers on the program all died in the
late 1900s. That’s a brand of sloppiness that drives
this consumer mad.
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