> Stokowski (Schubert-Wagner-Brahms) [JW]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Leopold STOKOWSKI
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No 8 "Unfinished"
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Forest Murmurs from Siegfried
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No 1
All-American Youth Orchestra (Schubert)
Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra (Wagner, Brahms)
Leopold Stokowski
Recorded Schubert July 1941, Wagner August 1946, Brahms August 1945
CALA CACD 0520 [74.45]


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This is another well-filled Cala disc with an authoritative sleeve note by Edward Johnson. It sees Stokowski in a transitional period conducting two orchestras, both of which he created. The All-American Youth Orchestras comprised 90 members ranging in age from 14-25 but with a stiffening of younger musicians from the Philadelphia. The Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra was commonly thought to comprise members of the Los Angeles Orchestra but in fact was drawn from top players in the studio orchestras, many of whom had themselves been symphonic players or soloists in their own right. When one thinks that the studio orchestras at around this time had such figures as Toscha Seidel, members of the Hollywood String Quartet and Warwick Evans, cellist of the London Quartet, one can gauge the level of talent available.

Stokowski recorded the Schubert Unfinished four times. His first was an acoustic Philadelphia traversal in 1924 and this 1941 recording was his third. It never replicates the powerful string tone of the second of his recordings with the Philadelphians from 1927 and is in any case poorly recorded, with slightly scuffy surfaces that were apparently taken from the 33 1/3 lacquer originals. I find the performance over emphatic with phrasing too comfortably self-satisfied. It was the only Schubert symphony he was to record.

The Brahms First presents other points of interest and contention. Since he was a prolific recorder and re-recorded much of his repertoire, sometimes as much as eight times over in the case of Stravinsky’s The Firebird, we are better able to see the fluctuations and tempo-relations and other organizational decision making in the light of his performance history as a whole. This is especially so in the case of the Brahms First because evidence exists from 1972 that he could confound expectation and radically rethink interpretation or be caught up with factors, maybe external ones, which led to reappraisal. The commercially issued 1972 LSO recording differs markedly from a live Croydon broadcast with the same orchestra at around the same time. In the case of the 1941 recording I have ambivalent feelings; I admire the drama inherent in Stokowski’s conception, the string cantilena in the slow movement is superbly done, as is the layering of weight and tone throughout. It is a strong and individual conception powerfully alive to sectional balance and bass led sonorities. And yet it is also somewhat wilful with unmarked accelerandos and in the finale especially a degree of tempo-related manhandling which results, to my ears, in a fatal haemorrhaging of architectural coherence. The Wagner acts as a balance between these two symphonic masterpieces – a gutsy performance. A controversial brace of recordings then but ones never without Stokowskian interest.

Jonathan Woolf


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