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Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741)
Le Quattro Stagioni, RVv 269, 315, 293, 297. [45.50]
Hugh Bean, solo violin; Desmond Bradley, Kenneth Moore, violins
Raymond Clarke, cello; Charles Spinks, harpsichord
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Recorded in Decca Studios, West Hampstead, London, UK, 11 June 1966. ADD
George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)

Messiah: (1744): Overture [3.27]; ‘Every valley shall be exalted [4.18]; ‘And the glory of the Lord [3.57]; Pastoral Symphony [4.51]; ‘Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened...; He shall feed his flock ... Come unto Him’ [8.50 ]; ‘Thy rebuke hath broken His heart ...; Behold and see if there be any sorrow’ [3.46]; ‘He was cut off out of the land of the living...; But Thou didst not leave His soul in hell’ [3.22]; ‘Why do the nations’ [5.46]; Hallelujah [4.51]; ‘I know that my Redeemer liveth’ [7.20]; ‘Since by man came death’ [2.19]; Amen [4.44]
Sheila Armstrong, soprano; Norma Procter, contralto; Kenneth Bowen, tenor
John Cameron, bass; Charles Spinks, harpsichord; Philip Ledger, organ
London Symphony Chorus/John Alldis
London Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Recorded Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 20 September 1966. ADD
Produced in association with the Leopold Stokowski Society
Notes in English. Photos of the artists, texts, and translations of the Vivaldi sonnets.
Previously released on Decca Phase 4 LPs
CALA CACD0538 [45:50 + 58:05]
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Comparison recordings:
Vivaldi, Four Seasons, Louis Kaufman, NYPO [OP] Concert Hall Society LP
Messiah, Scherchen, LSO & Chorus, [ADD] Archipel ARPCD 0255-3
Messiah, Somary, ECO, Amor Artis Chorale [ADD] Vanguard OVC 4018/9

When I saw these recordings announced my first horrified thought was, "What new violence is Stokowski going to wreak upon these baroque masterpieces?" I had never forgiven him for what he had done to the Bach Brandenburg Concerto #5, nor ceased to be amazed at how he could get those musicians who obviously knew better to go along with him.

Well, I needn’t have worried. Stokowski was perfectly capable of beating time straight off if that was what was called for, and that’s mostly what he did here. True, he has extended and deepened some of the ritardandos and encouraged the soloists to more expressive rubato than one usually hears, and incidentally led the orchestra to accompany them with great sympathy. However these are performances that would have been accepted as quite unexceptional in the 1950s.

Indeed, the famous "first" recording of the Four Seasons with Louis Kaufman made in the 1950s is very similar to this one in style. The major reviewers of the time agree with me that this Stokowski version is one of the most listenable versions of the Four Seasons ever made. Remastered here in 96kHz/24Bit sound the orchestra string tone is beautiful, unlike the earlier Scheharazade recording (CALA CACD 0536) where I was rebuked by several friends for not warning them in my review how harsh the strings sounded. I confess: in regard to that recording I was begeistered and not able to offer sensible criticism. But I am now fully awake.

Comparing Hermann Scherchen’s 1953 recording of Messiah, on many lists as the best recording ever made, with members of the LPO only 13 years previous to this one is also interesting. The Scherchen recording was one of the first salvos to be fired in the Original Instrument/Original Performance Practice revolution. Stokowski’s orchestra and chorus are so disciplined that they don’t sound greatly oversized even in comparison to the Scherchen version which was shockingly under-staffed by contemporary standards. But Stokowski does strive for grandeur and mostly returns to the tempi of his childhood recollection, or perhaps at least of his immediately previous performance of Messiah — in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA, in 1909. The soloists are all in good voice, but all sound "churchy" and none of these arias is greatly memorable, although Sheila Armstrong’s Redeemer is pretty good. The choruses tend mostly to be slow and grand, the result being a rather undistinguished performance overall, perhaps excepting the ‘Pastoral Symphony’ which is pure lush Stokowski larghissimo string tone, if you like that sort of thing.

Somary’s Messiah recording made four years later in Wembley Town Hall, London, uses smaller forces and faster tempi, but still has a little romantic spirit about it and is in fact my preferred complete stereo version.

If Handel was so upset at the nations furiously raging together in 1744, it’s merciful he didn’t live to see the next 68 years. He died thinking of Colonel George Washington as a loyal servant of the King.

Paul Shoemaker

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