> Leopold Stokowski - Elgar / Brahms [JW]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)






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Leopold STOKOWSKI 1
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934) Enigma Variations
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Symphony No 1
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (Elgar)
London Symphony Orchestra (Brahms)
Recorded House of Artists Prague (Elgar)
September 1972 and Royal Albert Hall (Brahms) June 1972
CALA CACD 0524 [76.20] Midprice

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Though Stokowski programmed quite a bit of Elgar in his early days in America this remains the only recording to have been made, on two evenings, in Prague in 1972. The Phase 4 recording, long familiar, enshrines a performance of tremendous conviction and its restoration to the catalogue in Cala's invaluable series is of real importance.

Listen to Stokowski's bass line in the Enigma theme or the flute timbre in HDS-P. One can do nothing but admire the shimmer of the violins or the beautifully flowing portrait of Richard Baxter Townshend for this is a recording that teems with detail and new found inspiration, notwithstanding the painfully little rehearsal time available because of Stokowski's heavy fall on his journey to Prague. Troyte is fleet and balance is not quite all it could be or should be whereas Nimrod is expansive, well paced and well concluded - how few conductors make the final transition really work and how many make it sound awkward, fractured and broken-backed. There's never a moment's problem with Stokowski. The *** Lady Mary Lygon variation is truly affecting, almost in the Monteux class, Stokowski bringing out orchestral strands with superb finesse but never affectation. In every way this a rivetingly affectionate reading of the score -not an immaculate one its true though in the circumstances it could hardly have been otherwise -but one of commanding stature.

The Royal Albert Hall Brahms' First Symphony saw Stokowski celebrating his ninetieth birthday and the LSO its sixtieth. It was also the anniversary of his first concert with the orchestra, in 1912. He had recorded the symphony in 1927 with the Philadelphia and in 1945 with the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. Anyone expecting a languid, indulgent and senatorial performance is in for a shock. This is an intense, red-blooded and quick performance, rhetorical and occasionally extravagantly demonstrative. But it is also organizationally coherent and saturated in Stokowskis tonal opulence. His tempo changes and string layering are exceptionally astute, even if one takes exception to them, the dark black horns emerging portentous and glowering. His bass sonorities are wonderfully expressive, listen also to the Chorale theme at the end of the symphony to hear his sure instinct for musical drama and its effective realization. Not a Brahms First for everyone or for all seasons then but one of real intensity and deeply moving.

Notes are by Edward Johnson of the Stokowski Society and comprehensively cover performance histories. The sound, needless to say, is splendid. A notable re-issue.

Jonathan Woolf


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