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Leopold STOKOWSKI: The Classic 1947-1949 Columbia Recordings, Volume 2
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883): ‘Rienzi’ Overture (1840) [11’02"]
Recorded 4 April 1949
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957): ‘Maiden with the Roses’ from Swanwhite (1908) [3’13"] Recorded 17 November 1947
Aram KHACHATURIAN (1903-1978): Masquerade Suite [17’15"]
Recorded 3 & 17 November 1947
Peter Ilych TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893): Waltz from Serenade for Strings (1880) [3’47"] Recorded 28 November 1949
Richard WAGNER: ‘Siegfried’s Rhine Journey’ [10’55"]; ‘Siegfried’s Funeral Music’ [12’01"] from Die Götterdämmerung (1874)
Recorded 4 April 1949
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)(arr. Erwin Stein): ‘Song of the Wood Dove’ from Gurrelieder (1911/1922) *[12’28"]
Recorded 28 November 1949
Aaron COPLAND (1900-1990): ‘Prairie Night’ [3’39"]; ‘Celebration Dance’ [2’00"] from Billy the Kid (1938)
Recorded 3 November 1947
* Martha Lipton (mezzo-soprano)
New York Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski
1947 recordings made in Carnegie Hall, New York
1949 recordings made in Columbia’s 30th Street Studios, New York
CALA CACD0534 [76’40"]


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This CD is a companion to Cala’s previous collection of Stokowski’s 1940s recordings with the NYPO (Cala CACD0533) which I recently reviewed enthusiastically

Like Volume 1 this collection opens with a Wagner overture, in this case the overture to Rienzi. I found this to be a riveting performance, by turns majestic and exciting. Stokowski is highly persuasive in this piece and gets very distinguished playing from the orchestra. There’s more Wagner in the form of two "bleeding chunks" from Götterdämmerung. In both instances the excerpts played here are somewhat more extensive than we are accustomed to hearing in the concert hall for Stokowski reverts to the full score to include substantial "lead-in" passages. The performance of the Funeral Music (track 10) is as searing yet noble as any I’ve heard with immensely powerful brass playing which is reported splendidly by the Columbia recording. The ‘Rhine Journey’ (track 9) sounds here like an exuberant tidal wave, exultantly sweeping all before it; truly, the Rhine in full spate.

One of the earliest highlights of Stokowski’s studio career was the 1932 premiere recording of Schoenberg’s colossal Gurrelieder, made in Philadelphia. Here he gives us the celebrated ‘Song of the Wood Dove’ in a reduced orchestration by Erwin Stein (though the orchestra still sounds pretty full to me). The powerful and accomplished soloist is Martha Lipton. She was a soloist at the Metropolitan Opera between 1944 and 1960 and this assumption of the role of the Wood Dove shows that she had strong dramatic credentials. Stokowski directs the difficult accompaniment accurately and sympathetically.

Stokowski gave the New York premiere of the Khachaturian suite in October 1947. I wonder if this recording, which followed hot on the heels of that premiere was the work’s first? The liner notes quote a contemporary review of the recording which delivers the following verdict: "As a lesson in how to take trite music and make it sound actually great, this set is not only a lesson but a whole course for aspiring conductors." I couldn’t agree more. Whatever one’s reservations about the music per se, the opening waltz (which I rather like, I must confess) is done with tremendous panache (track 3) and the succeeding Nocturne is dominated by a most poetic solo by the NYPO’s long-serving concertmaster, John Corigliano (father of the composer of the same name). The Romance (track 6) is intense and passionate. In short, Stokowski makes the best possible case for this music.

The shorter works are all well done. The brief Sibelius excerpt (track 2) is hushed and tender. This maiden is a fragile flower and is nurtured with great care and delicacy by Stokowski and his players. The Tchaikovsky Waltz (track 8) is invested with spirit and romance, though some may feel that the agogic hesitations are a trifle overcooked. The two Copland items which end the collection have a suitable feel of the Great Outdoors. Stokowski caresses ‘Prairie Night’ (track 12), evoking most successfully an image of a vast, deep blue sky in which the stars twinkle brightly.

As was the case with Volume 1, Richard Gates’ notes are a model of their kind; succinct yet well written and informative. The transfers are excellent. This CD is just as eminently recommendable as was its predecessor. Cala have done ‘Stoki’ proud.

John Quinn

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