> Stokowski Encores CACD0529 [JW]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Stokowski Encores
Peter TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Aurora’s Wedding Edited by Serge Diaghilev from The Sleeping Beauty
Orchestral Transcriptions by Leopold Stokowski
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Clair de lune; Night in Granada
Isaac ALBENIZ (1860-1909)
Festival in Seville
Ottokar NOVACEK (1866-1900)
Perpetuum Mobile
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975) Prelude in E Flat minor
Nikolas RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908) The Flight of the Bumble-Bee
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka in B flat minor; Prelude in D minor
National Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Recorded West Ham Central Mission, London May and July 1976
CALA CACD 0529 [78.29] Midprice

Spending more and more time in his native country Stokowski made these exhilarating recordings with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, an ad hoc ensemble of the type familiar to him from his time in New York. Led by Sidney Sax it included, in the violins alone, Hugh Bean, Desmond Bradley, Bela Dekany, John Georgiadis and Kenneth Sillito. Sometimes recording orchestras of this type are considerably less than the sum of their parts but this really was a virtuoso instrument, flexible, tonally luxuriant and technically excellent. The 43-minute ballet sequence was edited by Diaghilev from The Sleeping Beauty as a result of the financial – not artistic – failure of its London performances in 1921 (the first outside Russia). The result was a compressed one-act work consisting of, in the main, divertissements from Act Three. Stokowski had recorded highlights of The Sleeping Beauty in 1947 and in 1953 he had recorded the Diaghilev edition to which he returned here, in 1976, at the age of 94, a year in which he made some truly splendid recordings. He was a superb ballet music conductor and it shows here in his attentiveness, his affectionate nudging and nuancing and his lyrical sensibility. It is my preferred recording of any of The Sleeping Beauty music. The 1937 transcription of Clair de lune features harp arpeggios, a vibraphone and much exotic succulence. Listen to the polished sheen of the first violins at 2.17. A muted trumpet haunts the Night in Granada, as does the habanera serenade. Stokowski could write a sultry and saucy transcription like no other and here we have both – listen to the violins’ raunchy little fillip to their line at 3.38. The important bassoon at 5’30 is well captured in this well-balanced recording in the unlikely setting of the West Ham Central Mission. Stokowski orchestrated Albeniz’s piece in 1925 and laid down a carpet of strummed pizzicato cellos over which the cor anglais rides; with muted trumpet and chimes and some stentorian trombones Albeniz’s Granadan procession can seldom have sounded so fantastically exciting. And loud. Novacek’s Pepetuum Mobile, showpiece for show-off violinists, openings with a luxurious harp glissando and then digs into what Stokowski apparently saw as a kind of etude. This is his revised transcription – the one with added wind, brass and percussion and as Edward Johnson’s notes point out, the extra aural frisson of hearing Stokowski hushing the violins at the end of the raucous ride. Stokowski sombrely orchestrates Shostakovich’s Prelude. The conductor wrote of this Prelude that "only genius can be so eloquent and concentrated" and his 1935 transcription of a work that was only premiered, in Moscow, in 1932 attests to his respect and acute understanding of its status. For good measure the conductor adds a xylophone to his Flight of the Bumble-bee. In the two Chopin transcriptions the Mazurka is laden with trumpet interjections and some juicy portamentos from the lower strings at 1.35 whilst the Prelude opens like Die Walkure or the Flying Dutchman and stays that way – frightening.

Jonathan Woolf

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