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.