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Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839 - 1881)
Boris Godunov, opera in 4 acts (1874) (Suite arr. Stokowski) [51.45]
Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, bass, as Boris and Varlaam
Lawrence Mason, tenor, as the Simpleton; Raymond Cauwet, soprano, as Feodor
San Francisco Opera Chorus, Kurt Herbert Adler, Chorus Director
San Francisco Boys’ Chorus, Madi Bacon, Director
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski.
Recorded 10 December 1952. First released as RCA Red Seal mono LP LM 1764
Richard WAGNER (1813 - 1883)

Parsifal, A Festival piece in Three Acts (1879)
Good Friday Spell [11.07]
‘Symphonic Synthesis’ of Act III (arr. Stokowski) [16.40]
Leopold Stokowski conducting His Symphony Orchestra
Recorded 24 September 1952. First released as RCA Red Seal LP mono LM 1730
Notes in English. Transliterated Russian and English text. Photo of Rossi-Lemeni.
Recorded locations not given. [ADD]
Sponsored by the Leopold Stokowski Society UK www.stokowskisociety.net
CALA CACD 0535 [79.34]

Comparison Recordings
Boris Godunov ‘Symphonic Synthesis,’ Stokowski, L’Orchestre de la Suisse Romande Decca ‘Phase 4’ E4438962
Boris Godunov (Rimsky-Korsakov edition) Issay Dobrowen, Boris Christoff, bass; (mono) French National Radio Orchestra. EMI 7243 5 65192 2 0
Parsifal excerpts, Stokowski, Houston Symphony Orchestra Everest EVC 9024

Stokowski first conducted Boris in Philadelphia in 1929, drawing the various sections from three published ‘original’ editions of the opera. Subsequently he arranged a 25 minute ‘Symphonic Synthesis’ which was recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra on 78 rpm disks, and was hailed as a marvel of high fidelity recording at the time with its realistic depiction of bell and percussion sounds. This version was re-recorded in 1968 and released on Decca ‘Phase 4’ Stereo. It is still in print, and the restored original recording is also available on collectors labels.

This 1952 suite presented here contains choral and solo selections and includes all the high points of the opera, making up a little less than a third of the time of a full performance, skilfully abridged and blended together so as to make a very effective presentation. Again, for its time, it was a high fidelity demonstration recording in RCA’s ‘New Orthophonic’ monophonic LP series. The disk went out of print for many years, and about ten years ago the Leopold Stokowski Society UK arranged for a copy of the master tape and issued a private label LP pressing. This CD release is prepared from that master tape copy. Perhaps technically this disk should be labelled AAD, but record companies have long made it a practice to duplicate master tapes at will, generally to preserve them as old tape formulations and splices began to deteriorate, so that what any company calls a ‘master’ could be several generations old by now. We won’t mention the unfortunate fact that disgruntled sound engineers sometimes steal the original master, replacing it with a copy, but this has happened.

My original copy of LM 1764 is one of the few disks I actually wore out. When I was getting to know classical music this was one of my favourite disks. The work was all but unknown at the time, and the complete EMI recording with Dobrowen and Boris Christoff didn’t come out in the US until the late 1950s, also with the bass soloist singing all the bass roles. It was a big investment for a college student (4 LPs + book on a premium label!) and I didn’t buy it. Also, compared scene by scene, even in abridged versions, the Stokowski version was more dramatic and in better sound.

And how is the sound on this transfer? The bass is good, the highs are a little shrill and rolled off. The original mono tape had primitive built-in reverb enhancement, so that can’t be used to liven things up. Marc Obert-Thorn could probably do a little better if he could find a mint pressing of LM 1764, but most of them are probably all worn out like mine is.

The incredible emotional power Musorgsky was able to pour into this score probably reflects his attempt to expiate his personal guilt over his homosexuality, which would be considered ‘child murder’ by the religion of his culture. The expiation was unsuccessful and in the years after the opera was completed Musorgsky set about methodically to drink himself to death. Among the ironies of this situation, modern historical research has it that Boris was innocent of the murder of the Tsarevich, it was Shuisky all along. Shuisky eventually killed Dmitri and himself assumed the throne briefly before he, too, was assassinated and the Romanoff Dynasty could settle down to 500 years of consistent brutality.

Stokowski recorded the Wagner Good Friday Spell and Symphonic Synthesis of Act III of Parsifal three times. I don’t feel that Parsifal lends itself to excerpting so I find these transcriptions much less successful, but must acknowledge that my father cherished the 78 rpm recordings of this music among his favourite recordings, only listening to them quietly late at night when everybody else was asleep. The very slow unfolding of the music concentrates attention on the sustained strident string sound, and the only recording I could recommend would be the latest one in stereo sound.

Paul Shoemaker



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