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Stokowski’s Classic 1947-49 Columbias Vol. 3 and live broadcasts
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Symphony No. 6 [29:16]
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY Romeo and Juliet [19:07]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Symphony No. 35 Haffner [15:17]
Thomas Jefferson SCOTT From the Sacred Harp [7:46]
Jaromir WEINBERGER Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper [7:30]
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Rec. Carnegie Hall, 1949, RVW/Tchaikovsky licensed from Sony. Other tracks live concert performances
Produced in association with the Leopold Stokowski Society
CALA CACD0537 [78:58]


This is the third of CALA’s doggedly reliable NYPO-Stokowski series. The first two are CACD0533 and CACD0534. It should be irresistible to Stokowskians everywhere even if the Symphony has been on Sony previously.

The RVW Symphony is something special. The devil drives in this blitzkrieg of a performance. Stokowski takes the orchestra on a breathtaking ride; a scorching whirlwind. I am not sure that I like the work quite this fast although it works outrageously well in the first movement. The approach can sound impatient which is fine until it scouts over detail and feeling in the bleak finale. This part of the symphony really needs space and time. Oddly enough at this speed the chilly Holstian Saturn-like echoes are more evident than ever; try track 4 at 3:00. Not ideal then but a counter-blast to the precious and the fastidious.

Stokowski also takes things fast in this Romeo and Juliet but is more pliable with more of a sense of give and take. He achieves a lively correspondence of speed and message; responsive, supple and volatile. This proves a flammable mixture which, while not at the fever pitch achieved by Monteux with the LSO in Vienna in the early 1960s (Vanguard), is certainly exciting. Cala achieve a good open sound superior to that in the Vaughan Williams. The sensual accelerations of harp and strings at 8.20 are marvellous and listen to those spitting mitrailleuse trumpets at 14.19. There is a magician’s art in the invocation of flames that play over the last pages. Golovanov might well have approved if he could have got over Stokowski’s capitalist credentials.

Stokowski rips and flails through the Haffner in a major antidote to exaggerated sepulchral reverence. It still has tenderness but this is virile ‘speed merchant’ Mozart. The whole symphony is over in just over a quarter of an hour. It would be instructive for Mozart devotees to hear this set in an evening of Haffners conducted by Pinnock, Böhm, Karajan and Walter. The Menuetto-Trio is too fast but the Finale-Presto flies by in an exhilaration of greased lightning - like a supercharged Nozze di Figaro overture.

The Scott piece is introduced by the composer in a placid, confident and completely unbombastic tone. Much the same can be said of his From the Sacred Harp which is pacific in inclination, calming, meditative, referring to spirituals in a naturalistic low-key way that links with Copland at one node and the pastoral Vaughan Williams (Dives and Lazarus and Fifth Symphony) at the other. This is taken from a V-Disc the inset label of which is reproduced in the booklet. This track is plagued with some wow - unfortunate on a work that has such long singing lines with prominence for the voices of the violins and the woodwind. It is clearly a delightful novelty and could enrich the repertoire of any orchestra if only the performing materials could be had.

Lastly comes Weinberger’s orchestral diptych. The music is characteristically cheeky and rambunctious. The whole opera was recorded complete on CBS Masterworks CD7934 back in 1981 when Heinz Wallberg conducted a Bavarian production in Munich. Such a pity that it is no longer available. This present track was unfortunately afflicted with what sounded uncommonly like a repeating groove. You are advised to check your copy in the shop. If the problem is there at all you will encounter it in the last few minutes of the Weinberger.

The notes are by Richard Gate.

This is a collection brimful of Stokowski’s confident, irreverent, personable and intensely idiosyncratic music-making.

Rob Barnett

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