> Tchaikowsky Francesca, Scriabin Poeme: Stokowski [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- July2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Francesca da Rimini (1876) [23.13]
Hamlet (1888) [19.16]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1871-1915)

Poème d'Extase (1908) [19.14]
Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York/Leopold Stokowski (Tchaikovsky) Stadium Houston Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski (Scriabin)
rec: c. 1959, Tchaikovsky: 1959 Manhattan Center, New York; Houston Civic Center, Texas. AAD
OMEGA EVEREST EVC 9037 [62.02]


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The Tchaikovsky 'poems' on this CD are reference versions. They should be heard at least once by anyone who cares for these pieces and indeed for Stokowski's non-conformist way with "old ones, new ones, loved ones".

If these recordings are familiar it is down to their long life in the catalogue from LP to CD. They were first issued, in the case of the Tchaikovsky, in January 1959 on Everest SDBR 3011 with the Scriabin following in November that year on SDBR 3032. The British company Dell'Arte were given licence to issue these recordings in the early 1990s and copies of that CD can, I believe, still be had at about the same bargain price as this disc but minus the invaluable Poème d'Extase, from Symposium. I have not been able to compare the two versions but would be surprised if there is much difference.

Whether these were the first LP recordings of the Tchaikovsky, I rather doubt though I cannot, off-hand, think who might have recorded them before 1959 [Collins LXT5186 (1956), Kletzki 33CX1565 (1958)-LM]. However Stokowski put these works on the map with performances of excoriating conviction. They still sound very good and this is surely down to the fact that the stereo recordings were made on 35mm stock and then in 1996 remastered by Omega using 20 bit digital super bit mapping. The range of the recording still sounds phenomenal with some exiguous quiets and loud passages with revelatory impact. True there is a modicum of hiss but the sound is intrinsically secure, embracingly steadfast, sturdy and with iron-clad clarity. The original tapes must have been well cared for. I compare the otherwise fine 1960s Decca tapes of Kertesz's Hary Janos where, on the recent Australian Eloquence release, the first bar or so revealed a blemish that sounded more like physical tape damage than signal saturation.

Stokowski is less of an eccentric than Golovanov (on Boheme) in Francesca (which I always think of as a work in which Tchaikovsky achieved perfection of manner and substance) but he does speed things up and slow them down with an exhilarating freedom. His orchestra howls and flames (as in 06.27) so much so that you could swear he will come to grief at any moment. Have hell's tornadoes sounded so vicious before? His love theme is almost sybaritic. Hamlet has plenty of 'grunt', aggression and 'thunder'. Once again, as in its companion, stereo separation is used to grand theatrical effect. In the Scriabin the spotlighting of instruments is very apparent largely sapping any sense of front-to-back perspective. This softens the otherwise priapic trumpet solos. The effect, in the round, is extremely persuasive and engaging and in Stokowski's luxurious hands dreamy and filmic (13.57). The skipping and scudding violins also point up the relationship with Stravinsky's Firebird (a score often hinted at here). This is a staggeringly well sustained interpretation if sui generis because of its sybaritic immersion.

Oh yes, and the Stadium SO is none other than the New York Phil using the name it adopted for its summer season concerts at the Lewisohn Stadium (1918-66).

Rob Barnett

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