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Stokowski conducts a Russian Spectacular
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

Night on Bare Mountain (1867) orchestrated Stokowski (1940) [9:47]
Khovantchina Suite (1872-75) [17:13]
Act I Prelude - orchestrated Rimsky-Korsakov [6:21]
Act IV Dance of the Persian Maidens - orchestrated Rimsky-Korsakov [6:03]
Act IV – Entr’acte – Prince Galitsin’s Journey - orchestrated Stokowski [4:49]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)

Russian Easter Overture Op 36 (1888) [13:40]
Rheinhold Moritzovich GLIÈRE (1875-1956)

Red Poppy, ballet – Russian Sailors’ Dance (1926-27) [3:22]
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840–1893)
Eugene Onegin – Polonaise (1879) [4:14]
Alexander BORODIN (1833-1887)
In the Steppes of Central Asia (1880) [9:03]
Prince Igor - Polovtsian Dances (1879) arranged Stokowski [17:47]
Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra
rec. Manhattan Centre, New York, 1953 except Polovtsian Dances, 1950
CALA CACD 0546 [74:28]


 


Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra set down these riveting recordings in 1953, with the exception of the 1950 Borodin Polovtsian Dances arrangement. The recording location was the Manhattan Centre and the players included the crème de la crème - John Corigliano, William Lincer, Leonard Rose and Robert Bloom amongst them. That said there were obviously not too many of them – maybe sixty - and the recording technicians compensated with what is on occasion a Gothic amount of reverberation.

Much as I love this performance of Night on Bare Mountain, heard in its 1940 Stokowski arrangement, I can’t really take the reverb and I couldn’t recommend it to more hair shirted listeners; to sybarites, of course, the recommendation is total. The brass is satanic, Bloom’s oboe has a caressing beauty and the flute principal is just as worthy. Earnest Stokowskians – if there are any such – might prefer the 1940 Philadelphia or the three 1960s London recordings, two with the LSO and one with the RPO. Then there’s the Fantasia soundtrack of course.

The Khovantchina Suite consists of the two Rimsky orchestrations and Stokowski’s own orchestration of the Act IV Entr’acte – Prince Galitsin’s Journey. The quietude and subtlety of the wind playing is richly evident in the awakening of the Act I Prelude. Then there’s the sheer succulence of the Corigliano-led strings in the Act IV Dance and the big, fat vibrato-wide trumpet principal who wouldn’t have been out of place in Svetlanov’s Bolshoi and USSR State recordings. Stokowski reserves ominous power in his own splendid orchestration.

Veterans will not necessarily want to hear yet another Russian Easter Overture but this one has a famous Stoky twist – the replacement of the solo trombone by the bass Nicola Moscona. This is widely held to be a triumph but even this fully paid up member of the Stokowski fan club finds it vaguely ridiculous. Moscona’s voice builds in size, via control room knob twisting, as he intones the melody; the effect is rather like watching Christopher Lee, fangs bared and arms outstretched, striding inexorably toward the camera. Add this by all means but prefer the 1929 Phily; if you really want to hear Moscona hear him in the 1942 NBC recording that he made, gimmick free in sound terms, with Stokowski. It’s also on Cala in their Russian Masterworks disc CALA CACD 0505.

Stokowski was an idiomatic Borodin conductor as his 1925 and 1937 recordings attest. The Polovtsian Dances, here called the Dances of the Polovetzki Maidens, is heard in Stokowski’s colourful and vibrant arrangement. He does all manner of things here. Unlike the 1937 recording he reintroduces the women’s chorus and stitches together a delectable eighteen-minute piece.

The transfers were taken from commercial copies. I’ve never heard them so I can’t make comparisons but previous reissues from Cala have gone back to source material with sometimes spectacularly beneficial results. So that’s a small disappointment as it would have been important to know how much better the original tapes might have sounded. Certainly close miking didn’t flatter things in the Tchaikovsky and elsewhere microphone placement was sometimes ineffective. Nevertheless this is still an enjoyable disc - varied and visceral.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 


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