> Stokowski and the New York Philharmonic Volume 1 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Stokowski and the New York Philharmonic Volume 1
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

The Flying Dutchman – Overture (1843)
Die Walküre – Wotan’s Farewell and Magic Fire Music (arr Stokowski) (1850)
Mikhail IPPOLITOV-IVANOV (1859-1935)

Caucasian Sketches – No 2 In the Village (1894)
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)

L’Ascension – Four Symphonic Meditations (1933)
Charles Tomlinson GRIFFES (1884-1920)

Roman Sketches – The White Peacock
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Sir John in Love – Fantasia on Greensleeves (arr Ralph Greaves) (1934)
Piotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Francesca da Rimini (1876)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Recorded New York 1947-49
CALA CACD0533 [76.47]

Stokowski’s path following his departure from Philadelphia was a curious one. Various short-term appointments with a variety of orchestras led to some recording activity – but sharing the NBC with Toscanini was a study in contrasts bound to end badly. For a while though, before it too soured, Stokowski enjoyed a strong position as Guest Conductor of the New York Philharmonic making a series of important recordings between 1947 and 1949 – barring 1948 when a recording ban was in force. This is Volume One of the Columbias – a companion volume CACD 0534 concludes them. The recordings, as ever with Stokowski, are an idiosyncratic selection; the discs he made with the group known as his Symphony Orchestra were equally so – "from Gabrieli to Grainger" as sleeve note writer Richard Gate felicitously puts it.

No real thread runs through the discs. A commitment to the work of contemporaries, the desire to foster native American talent, an interest in things Slavonic and in Wagnerian syntheses are however some of the imperatives Stokowski demonstrates. His Wagner is powerful and resilient; the Flying Dutchman overture is but for some poor wind chording – which stopped its release at the time, though it’s subsequently appeared on LP – an impressively sonorous affair with powerful brass to the fore. The Stokowski-arranged excerpt from Die Walküre was something of a fixture for him – recordings of the Magic Fire Music at least date from 1921 and 1939 (both Philadelphia), Houston from 1960 and the RPO from 1973. I can imagine it won’t be to all tastes but Stokowski’s Wagner was impressive on its own terms; the various utilitarian syntheses he propounded over the years are really no substitute for the Stokowski led operas that we lack but they are all that remains. The Ippolitov-Ivanov is evocative and descriptively charming and clearly a reminiscent piece for Stokowski. He’d conducted it at his debut concert in 1909 and later recorded it in Philadelphia in 1925.

Messiaen’s L’Ascension was a first recording and a work he returned to with the LSO in 1970 – the differences are instructive. He is delightfully powerful in the third of the four Symphonic Meditations and incisively so in comparison with the later LSO recording, where he adopted a more leisurely tempo, as indeed he does for all four movements, sometimes dramatically so, as in the case of the first Meditation. But there is something undeniably magnificent in the way he spins the languorous violin line in the final Meditation in the New York recording. Stokowski gave the world premiere of Griffes’ The White Peacock in Philadelphia in 1919. Its effulgent impressionism is grist to Stokowski’s mill, its accelerandos and the rise and fall of its syntax encouraging supple string phrasing and wind playing of great precision and refinement. The Fantasia on Greensleeves was a filler to Stokowski’s celebrated recording of Vaughan Williams’ Sixth Symphony – the Fantasia is slightly abridged but the string layers are characteristically Stokowskian. Francesca da Rimini is another example of the conductor’s Tchaikovskian affinities, subsequently recorded with the Stadium Symphony Orchestra in 1958 and again with the LSO; vital, dramatic, with some cuts it might strike some as too forceful but it is splendidly clear and decisive.

This is the first time these recordings have been available on CD. The Messiaen makes a potent and constructively direct point of comparison with the later Stokowski recording and the Griffes is a piece associated with him, brief though it is. Proselytiser, synthesiser, occasional tyrant, there’s never a dull moment with Stokowski.

Jonathan Woolf

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