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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
CD 1
Capriccio Italien, Op. 45 [14:22]
Eugene Onegin, Op. 24: Polonaise; Valse [4:10 + 5:36]
The Nutcracker - Suite, Op. 71a (Miniature Overture; March; Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy; Russian Dance (Trepak); Arabian Dance (Coffee); Chinese Dance (Tea); Dance of the Reed Pipes; Waltz of the Flowers) [22:31]
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
CD 2
Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32 [22:37]
Serenade for Strings in C major, Op. 48 [28:12]
London Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. Wembley Town Hall, London, UK, December 1973 (Capriccio Italien, Eugene Onegin, Nutcracker Suite); Brent Town Hall, London, UK, October 1974 (Serenade for Strings, Francesca da Rimini). ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 442 8335 [47:15 + 50:49]
Experience Classicsonline

Here we have a big and burly bear-hug of a Capriccio Italien with lots of typically italicised attention to expression and phrasing. The sense of depth and perspective in the recording is pretty wonderful - listen to the oboe at 2.19 onwards. Then again the crashing cymbals, blasting brass and chest-shuddering strings are also bound to impress. Feeling jaded? Then give this one a try: it acts like a shot in the arm and reminds you what you first loved about music.

The Onegin - Polonaise is blisteringly exciting and the Valse is almost supernatural with some wonderful stuttering effects. Sadly though, the Valse is impatiently rushed - pity. The Nutcracker has Stokowski back on form with little skittering figures sent scurrying, sprinted dances and a super-exaggeratedly slow Dance of the sugar plum fairy. I have never heard it taken this slow - loved it. The wonderful quiet playing from the strings at start of the Sugar Plum is reproduced again with Arabian Dance complete with beautiful swooning portamentos. Stokowski got the LPO to play their best for him. Music-making with face.

Turning to the LSO disc we can expect great things and not be disappointed. Even so, the casual and uninterested start to Francesca seems unlike the Stokowski who conducted Francesca for the NY Stadium and Vanguard in 1958. Things warm up and the LSO play their hearts out with the sort of whooping horns we can hear from the Philharmonia at the end of the first movement of the Boult Moeran Symphony (Lyrita). There’s an interminably decaying tam-tam crash at the end - a good touch.

Apropos of a great opportunity let me renew my plea for some kind guardian angel to issue the BBC Radio 3 broadcast of an RFH concert performance of Francesca as conducted by the much maligned Yuri Ahronovich with the LSO. He directed one of the great Francescas that evening on 19 September 1978.

After such high melodrama and volcanic passions welcome to the Serenade for Strings which is big, reverberant, fulsome and, in the Elegie, deeply heartfelt. This may not have been as heated as the Svetlanov version on BMG-Melodiya but it is pretty hot. Stokowski and the Decca engineers make wonderful use of the stereo signals as in the contrast between discreet pizz and flowingly cavalier-rich string contours. It is a ripping performance offering delicacy and sumptuous dazzle.

There are useful notes from Raymond Tuttle.

Another triumph from Cyrus Meher-Homji with his hotline to Universal's grand analogue treasury. What a pity we cannot persuade him to gain access to the series of recordings Charles Gerhardt made for Readers Digest and then for RCA in the period 1967-1979 including the mysteriously neglected RCA classic film music series he made with the Sidney Sax's London-based National Philharmonic. Now that would be a coup!
Rob Barnett



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