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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Rosamunde - incidental music D.797 (1823) [26:37]
Dances from Deutsche Tanze as ‘Tyrolean Dances’ - excerpts arr. Leopold Stokowski [7:27]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor From the New World, B178 Op.95 (1893) [42:03]
Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra
rec. Manhattan Center, New York, December 1947 (New World), June 1949 (Tyrolean Dances) and September 1952 (Rosamunde)
CALA CACD0550 [76:07]
Experience Classicsonline

There are worse things to do than listen to Stokowski’s Dvořák New World. As admirers of the conductor will know he had a long running discographic love affair with the symphony. There were numerous attempts to get things down on disc or tape over the years. If you’re a real, probably sleepless and obsessive Stokowskian you will know of the unpublished 1917 acoustic of the third movement, the 1919 abridged second movement (a 1921 recording of the same was never issued), and then the reduced band 1925. Soon after that came a 1927 remake, then the famed 1934 - all these with the Philadelphia obviously - and then the 1940 All American, the one disinterred by Cala and the subject of this review, and after that recordings with the American Symphony in 1967 (unpublished) and the 1973 New Philharmonia.

Realistically and sonically we can note that the 1925 early electric was buffeted by tuba reinforcements and is something of a trial but the rapid remake two years later was more like it. It’s a question of taste as to which others you will prefer - the 1940 All American, 1947 his Symphony Orchestra and the most pleasingly recorded performance of all (because the latest), the Philharmonia.

Those with capacious bank accounts might reckon that several accounts merit archiving. And so in this spirit what of this 1947 recording, made with ‘his’ symphony orchestra, amongst whose serried ranks sat such luminaries as John Corigliano, Leonard Rose, Walter Trampler, David Oppenheim and Robert Bloom - all from the NYPSO in other words; the cor anglais player was Mitch Miller, whose playing - amazingly enough - I’ve never much liked and whose second movement solo here I definitely don’t like, but I’m in a minority of one on that score.

I’m not sure who was the principal flautist but his oscillatory vibrato makes something tremulous of the opening statements of the Symphony. But there’s plenty of bite and power in the lower strings, a snappy, sappy violin cantilever and plenty of vertiginous dynamics in the big acoustic of the Manhattan Center, New York. Similarly big band percussion makes itself felt and the horns cry with passionate conviction; the winds have nothing Czech about them at all but there’s much to enjoy nevertheless. Stokowski’s string cushion in the slow movement is typically expressive and he’s much slower than, say, Ančerl, Talich or Reiner. A conventional enough Scherzo follows, though it has plenty of personality and strength of character before we reach the finale. This is terse, powerful and toward the end Stokowski can’t help himself; the blighter sticks in a tam-tam and reinforced brass and ends in a veritable if dubious blaze of glory. I’m not going to censure too much, because I did enjoy it and there are plenty of rectitudinous accounts out there if you suffer from an allergy to conductorial editing.

One small, final point. Isn’t it disappointing that Stokowski pretty much ignored all the other symphonies?

The fillers are a little more substantial than that implies. We have Rosamunde which he later recorded with the National Philharmonic in 1976; he’d also recorded the Ballet Music in G back in 1927. Once again there are interpolations, in the Entr’acte No.3, but otherwise this is a pleasurable if not altogether outstanding reading. Of the Tyrolean Dances, or more properly the Dances from Deutsche Tanze, he had recorded No.3 in 1922 and the set with the NY City Symphony (also on Cala CACD0502). The arrangements are Stokowski’s and they’re on the treacly side and the band plays with plenty of Lyons Corner House (or its American equivalent) string slides. Interesting to hear - but once only for me.

The major catch here is the New World. I think the transfers have been made from RCA’s LP and not, so far as I can tell, from a surviving master. It sounds fine however. And for an example of Stokowski’s way with the symphony I’d rate it as an adjunct to the 1973 and 1927 performances. Good to have it back.

Jonathan Woolf 

 


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