"Are you nervous?" Stokowski’s question,
addressed to the laughing Philadelphia audience in October 1935 as they
launched themselves into a Pension Fund concert singsong of La Marseillaise,
might equally well apply to the prospective purchaser of this disc.
Though it is a necessarily haphazard compilation this thoroughly engaging
CD collates previously unreleased recordings spanning the years 1927-44
and featuring three of the orchestras Stokowski led.
A number of arcane things are here – notably the riotous
and shout-strewn Philadelphia Balance Test March composed, if that’s
not too strong a word for it, by Stokowski himself. Those of a nervous
disposition, harbouring aesthetically unsullied thoughts as to the spiritual
purity of that great orchestra, should perhaps programme their CD beforehand
to omit track two. More robust listeners will have a good laugh. The
Handel, though obviously anachronistic, is a splendid example of the
conductor’s maintenance of line and overlapping strings at a slow tempo.
We are lucky to have the 1937 recording of the Strauss since so little
of Stokowski’s Strauss has survived. This is a valuable addition, excellently
recorded, not utterly secure, but perfectly idiomatic. The Tchaikovsky
Marche Slave from his trio of recordings here with the NBC Orchestra
is a blaring and vigorous outing, maybe too much so for some ears. The
longest piece is a Stokowski favourite, Romeo and Juliet, with the quiet
ending he advocated. It is otherwise a tremendous performance, and fully
worthy to be disinterred here. Elsewhere the arrangements are variously
exotically or robustly clothed in Stokowskian garb – enjoy especially
the Scriabin – and considering their extreme rarity the copies have
survived in remarkably good shape. Kudos to Cala.