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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Leopold Stokowski
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)

Prelude to Hansel and Gretel
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Symphony No 53 The Imperial
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

German Dance No3 The Sleigh Ride
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Symphony No 2
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)

On the Beautiful Blue Danube
Tales from the Vienna Woods
Leopold Stokowski and His Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 1949-50
CALA CACD0532 [75’10]


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The latest Cala Stokowski release enjoys some distinguished music making. Two pieces here were originally reissued on a long admired Leopold Stokowski Society LP (LS 18) dating from 1991 called ‘Music From Vienna’ (they were the Haydn and Mozart). The remit of this CD has expanded geographically to include the Austro-Germanic repertoire and has at its heart two objectively outstanding performances of symphonic literature. The recordings were made in 1949-50, released by RCA Victor with the orchestra known as His Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble expressly gathered for the purpose of recording Stokowski’s interpretations. It included amongst its members a stellar gathering of New York’s finest – John Corigliano, leader, William Lincer and Walter Trampler, violists, the all star line up of cellists, Leonard Rose and Frank Miller, and the principals of the other sections were just as distinguished. A precursor to Stokowski’s final years when, after having returned to the city of his birth, he began a series of remarkable recordings with the National Philharmonic Orchestra.

The Humperdinck benefits from the spacious acoustic afforded the musicians. Parsifalian strings vie with crisp trumpets and well-articulated pizzicatos and there is a sense of vivacity coursing through the score, the woodwind solos pipingly apt. Haydn doesn’t much feature in the Stokowski discography but on this showing he was a convincing exponent. Opening in grand, resonant style Stokowski is careful to give full weight to the supportive cello line in a first movement notable for its warmth, generosity and lack of intrusive idiosyncrasy. The Theme and Variations Andante is similarly crisp and caressing; notable rubati from 0’34 onwards as Stokowski slows up in preparation for the following variational episode – but a properly slowing tempo is maintained. His Allegro is a well-calibrated and jovial charmer and the Presto-Finale full of commanding basses, solid horns and, authentic Haydn or not – there still appears to be debate – it caps a splendid performance, the only Haydn Symphony Stokowski ever recorded. His recording of the Schumann is as fine; he catches the sweep and fire of the Allegro section of the first movement as he does the vivacity and passion of the second. In this the orchestra prove themselves a cohesive and flexible body – note the horns’ stentorian passages in the first movement for example. The slow movement is perhaps the highlight of the performance – unselfconscious eloquence, the oboe winding through the score, Stokowski’s shaping of the important bass line, the vocal quality he elicits from the individual sections, the rise and fall of the musical argument projected with unexaggerated truthfulness. After which the vigorous and triumphant conclusion of the finale emerges in perhaps even greater relief adding evidence to contemporary reports of Stokowski’s handling of the Schumann – again this is the only symphony he recorded. The disc is filled out with the little Mozart Dance – again another seldom recorded composer of Stokowski’s but try to hear his only major recording, the Sinfonia Concertante for winds on Cala CACD05023 to show what he could do with Mozart. And there are also the two Strauss waltzes, which do feature largely in multiple recordings in Stokowski’s repertoire. As sleeve note writer Edward Johnson observes these are not the most authentic of performances but their vigour and animation is certainty all Stokowski’s.

Jonathan Woolf


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