Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Stokowski conducts scenes from Russian and German opera
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

Scenes from Boris Godunov
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)

Good Friday Scene
Symphonic Synthesis of Act 3 (arr. Stokowski)
Nicola Rossi-Lemeni (bass) Boris and Varlaam the Friar
Lawrence Mason (tenor) – Simpleton
Raymond Cauwet (boy soprano) – Feodor
San Francisco Boys Choir and Opera Chorus
San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
His Symphony Orchestra (in Parsifal)
Leopold Stokowski
Recorded 1952
CALA CACD 0535 [79.34]

Stokowski was in San Francisco in December 1952 for concerts and recording sessions. One was for the Rimsky-Korsakov orchestration of Boris Godunov, of which selected scenes were taped and which is now restored to the catalogue in Cala’s latest Stokowski release. He was certainly not unfamiliar with Boris, as he’d given the American premiere of a then (1929) newly edited version, although he never conducted it in the opera house. In San Francisco he selected the highlights for the disc and, true to form, included some ostensibly unlikely choices, such as the Monks’ Chorus from the Pimen Scene. The recording was made two days after the last concert performance and all concerned are powerfully engaged in maximal histrionic projection, insofar as Rimsky’s often delicious scoring allows. The Chorus is bold and strong – and large – and the orchestra is on fine form throughout, responding to Stokowski with conviction. And this is entirely predictable because, though not an operatic conductor, he was a frequently thrilling conductor of operatic material. One has to say material as his forays were mainly confined to the concert hall and often, as here, chunks or syntheses.

The most controversial aspect of this performance is the casting of Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, who in addition to Boris also tackles Varlaam. The notes cite contemporary critical opinion claiming him to have been the greatest Boris since Chaliapin, which is true only insofar as I am the greatest music critic since George Bernard Shaw. Whilst the voice is not especially attractive it does possess considerable power of histrionic projection. He was doubtless an actor of great presence and maybe the sheer visceral theatricality he exuded in the opera house and on the concert platform is dramatically less well served by a recorded remembrance of it. But I do find quite a bit of his performance to be rooted in a kind of pantomimic hysteria and the Death Scene in particular is drenched in a gruesome amount of theatrical "stuff."

Coupled with it come two extracts from Parsifal – the first the Good Friday music and then an Act Three synthesis compiled, constructed, call it what you will, by the conductor. I have great admiration for his Wagner and think it a loss that we lack a Tristan, a Meistersinger or, more to the point, a Parsifal from him. He shows a spiritual affinity and a burnished understanding that are frequently magnetic, whatever one’s view of the idea of the Synthesis, which he had first played in 1934.

Produced in association with the Stokowski Society and with notes by Edward Johnson the repertoire might purport to show us Stokowski the opera conductor manqué. I prefer to think of his eminently practical syntheses as part of his proselytising zeal to bring great music to the people and to distil the essence of a work without injuring its meaning.

Jonathan Woolf

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