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Symphony No 4 in F minor
A Shropshire Lad

Symphony No 4

NBC Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Cala CACD 0528 74:37
(Recorded in association with the Stokowski Society)

It was good to welcome Cala's issue of Stokowski's very idiosyncratic but remarkable wartime broadcast performance of The Planets in outstandingly immediate historical sound. With his much later Enigma Variations, it reminded us of Stokowski's affection for, and success with, British music from Vaughan Williams to Rubbra, and Butterworth to Dyson and Havergal Brian.

This is a Fourth to put beside Stokowski's historic world premiere commercial recording of Vaughan Williams's Sixth (reissued on Sony Classical SMK 58933). Here we have Stokowski's only performance of the Fourth, and so it is particularly valuable that these radio acetates of a live broadcast on 14 March 1943 sound so good. Stokowski plays to the gallery, very much emphasising this symphony, in 1943, as music of the times. It is dramatic and exciting, though more portentous than Vaughan Williams's own recording, Stokowski not responding to the composer's whirlwind tempi which he must surely have heard. If we put it alongside the composer's performance (best reissued on Dutton CDAX 8011) Stokowski's tempi are: first movement 9'16"/Vaughan Williams 8'02"; Andante moderato 8' 57"/8' 26"; Scherzo 6'06"/4' 58"; Finale 8'58"/7' 48". The period feel of the NBC Symphony's strings with their portamento, adds an historic frisson to a gripping live experience that bears comparison with Mitropoulos's strong and fiery reading (also on Sony Classical SMK 58933). A glorious survival.

The Vaughan Williams is the high point of this CD. The performance of A Shropshire Lad is in less good sound. Indeed it almost breaks up at several points. But it is well worth hearing Stokowski's way with the music for its emotional personal viewpoint. This is very different from the traditional restrained British view. Indeed, one can almost imagine Sir Adrian's discomfort at it. Not for every day but well worth a hearing.

The coupling emphasises that this is war music: Antheil's Fourth Symphony - and from its subtitle, "Symphony (1942)", clearly a work written in the shadow of Shostakovich's Seventh. Here we have the world premiere broadcast performance on 13 February 1944, from the same concert as the Butterworth. Neither matches the immediate sound of the Vaughan Williams. Antheil's contrast of menace, plaintive lyricism and bombastic triumph seems to be more film music than symphony, though none the worse for that. But it underlines the stature of the Vaughan Williams. And it is the VW which commands your attention here: for the thrust of the argument, the immediacy and the rhythmic bite, make this a valuable addition to the available discography not only of Stokowski but also of Vaughan Williams.


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