> Stokowski and the New York Philharmonic Volume 2 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Stokowski and the New York Philharmonic Volume 2
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Rienzi – Overture (1842)
Die Götterdämmerung (1876) – Siegfried’s Rhine Journey; Siegfried’s Funeral Music
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978)

Masquerade Suite
Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Serenade for Strings (1880) – Waltz
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Swanwhite - Maiden with the Roses
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)

Gurrelieder – Song of the Wood-Dove (arr Erwin Stein) (1900-03 rev 1910-11)
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990)

Billy the Kid (1938 concert suite 1939) – Prairie Night; Celebration Dance
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Recorded New York 1947-49
CALA CACD0534 [76.40]

The second volume of Stokowski’s New York Philharmonic recordings of 1947 and 1949 – a record ban meant none were made in the intervening year – continues the attractive piecemeal selection contained in the first. Some were fill-ups to symphonic sets whilst others – the Schoenberg, Wagner and Khachaturian – represent rather more arduous repertoire. Whilst this does make for a rather miscellaneous collection it serves not only to shine light on Stokowski’s less well known period with the orchestra but also to amplify certain features in programming and his wide-ranging musical tastes – which, as before, are Wagnerian, Slavonic, contemporary Americana and this time the august then still-living greats Sibelius and Schoenberg.

Stokowski proves himself a master of Wagnerian rhetoric; Rienzi is grand, authoritative and well played – albeit there sounds like a poor side join at 2.38. Stokowski admirers may care to note that he recorded it multiply – in Philadelphia in 1919, 1926/7 and again, live, in 1962 and finally with the RPO in 1973. In the music from Die Götterdämmerung there is a passionately declamatory energy – listen to the string playing at 2.35 in Siegfried’s Funeral March for example. As a performance it compares well with the subsequent LSO traversals of 1966 and 1974 – though I’ve not heard the experimental Bell Telephone recording of the Philadelphia in 1932. This was to be his only recording of the Khachaturian, which had received its New York première the previous month, given by Stokowski. This is light and frothy stuff but entertaining – we can also hear leader John Corigliano’s evocative violin solo in the second movement Nocturne, though he’s unfortunately accompanied by some "crunch" in the transfer. Still it would be hard heart that failed to respond the concluding Galop, a frolicsome, rudely exciting conclusion to the five-movement dance suite.

Stokowski’s only complete recording of Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings came with the LSO in 1974. Here he conducts just the Waltz – a juicy, elastic rather overnuanced affair with eyebrow cocking diminuendos. He had famously recorded Gurrelieder back in April 1932, one of his greatest early recordings. A 1961 radio performance has also surfaced in recent years but here he and Martha Lipton perform just the Song of the Wood-Dove and very evocatively. Stokowski uses Erwin Stein’s edition with its slightly reduced instrumentation. Finally the little Sibelius morceau and some Copland - and more first performances, the echt-Copland Prairie Night, warmly elemental, and the rollicking Celebration Dance.

It would be wrong to call this essential Stokowski but these are readings of flair and vigour, for too long buried in the vaults and making a very welcome reappearance in this generally well-engineered disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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