Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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LEOPOLD STOKOWSKI - The Magician   various orchestras  RCA Red Seal - Artists of the Century series RCA 74321 70931 2 2 CD set (CD1 78.10+CD2 70.29) Mid price ADD

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BACH Air on a G string; Wachet Auf *
BEETHOVEN Coriolan Overture *
LISZT Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 **
WAGNER Magic Fire Music (RPO rec 1973)
SMETANA Vltava **

BRAHMS Academic Festival Overture ***
RIMSKY-KORSAKOV Russian Easter Festival Overture ****
Vocalise *****


ENESCU Rumanian Rhapsody No. 1 **
Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 *****
Romeo and Juliet (five numbers) ******
Age of Gold (four numbers) ****

LSO rec 1974 *
RCA Victor SO rec 1960 **
New Philharmonia rec 1974 ***
Chicago SO rec 1968 ****
American SO (with Anna Moffo - soprano) rec 1964 *****
NBC SO (members of) rec 1954 ******

This is a nice set for those with caramel dentalwork. Each piece is lit and balanced with Stokowski's attention to the bigger technicolor picture and it is Stokowski's picture. The magic is in evidence in the balancings, adjustments and pacing of these familiar works. The recordings (1954-1973) are neon-illuminated but without undue glare. The oldest, Romeo, voluptuous indeed, is a performance in which every succulent drop is milked from the music. Frankly, though I enjoyed it, it is overdone to the point of saturated collapse (think of late Bernstein and then some!).

The Bach Air goes sweetly: no dawdling but predictably sheeny big band strings. The Winged Messenger gets under Stokowski's fingernails for the Shostakovich which goes cheekily. Stokowski's mainstream is successfully tapped in the exotic Rimsky and the naughty and cartoon-like Enesco. The Bach Wachet Auf, Wagner and Liszt are nondescript. I had better qualify that remark about the Stokowski mainstream. While, on disc, he is best known for mainstream Russian exotica (Scheherazade, Ilya Muramets and the like) his concert hall reputation was much broader. Of great value and taking up large parts of his concert programmes in Philadelphia (much to the horror of the matriarchal hegemony there) were his performances of contemporary American music.

Moffo is not among the very best but is still a paradigm by the side of the operatic divas who have felt (or been told that they are) duty bound to immemorialise their interpretations. In the lovely Vocalise she struggled once but otherwise triumphed. Vltava has a lovely sense of ebb, flow and depth (offset by congestion during the loud passages) making us wonder about a complete Stokowski Ma Vlast. Coriolan (dramatic) and Academic Festival round off this generously timed and spirited collection - a tonic for those who want to slough off the politically correct. There is a brief and rudimentary scene-setting essay in three languages.


Rob Barnett


Rob Barnett

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