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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Nicolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844 - 1908)
Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite, Op 35 (1888) [45.53]
Stokowski in Rehearsal [21.38]
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)

Marche Slave in Bb, Op 31 (1876) [11.07]
Erich Gruenberg, violin solo in the Rimsky-Korsakov.
London Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Recorded Kingsway Hall, London, UK, 22 September 1964 (Scheherazade) and Royal Albert Hall, London, UK, 15 June 1972, (Tchaikovsky)
Notes in English. Photos of the artists.
Produced in association with the Leopold Stokowski Society. AAD
CALA CACD 0536 [78.40]


Comparison Recording:
Scheherazade, Stokowski, LSO [ADD] Decca 417 753-2
Scheherazade, Stokowski, RPO [ADD] Dolby Surround RCA 09026-62604-2
Scheherazade, arr. for 2 guitars by K. and N. Yamashita RCA 6777-2 RC

Like many of you I grew up with Scheherazade on 78s, the Rodzinski recording with the Cleveland Orchestra I recall. How many times have I heard it? Would rather not guess. But contrary to my reaction to the Mozart 35th Symphony or the Beethoven Eighth Symphony, both of which I’ve heard far, far too many times, neither of which I ever want to hear again, I can hear Scheherazade again, right now, tomorrow, the day after. It is absolutely unkillable music, eternally gorgeous, ever delightful. And it has never been done better — never been done as well — as in this recording.

That doesn’t mean other versions aren’t also quite excellent. In addition to the Rodzinski, which is still in circulation as a restoration, the (OP) Westminster LP recording with Argeo Quadri is very worthy. Many swear by the Beecham version; Eugene Ormandy and Fritz Reiner recorded remarkable performances as well. I even liked the EMI recording with Rostropovich. Another version you must hear is the transcription for two guitars by brother and sister Yamash’ta on RCA. You don’t believe me, or course, but trust me and check it out. You’ll be glad you did. It pains me to urge you to avoid the Hermann Scherchen version on Westminster/DG; the orchestra plays so clumsily for him as to reduce his fine performance nearly to a shambles.

Many of you will already have this recording in an ADD CD transfer on the Decca label; so, is there any reason to buy it again? This Cala transfer has been done utilising 96kHz, 24bit technology (but, of course, it is still a normal CD, not a DVD-Audio). Theoretically it could be a little better in sound, just as the extra tape duplication step in going from ADD to AAD could diminish that advantage. So is there really any improvement in sound quality and if so how much? I compared these disks on my "D" system, a portable with 5" speakers I use to listen to music quietly in bed. No mistake — at once the improvement in power and clarity of sound in the new version was manifest and unmistakable. On my "A" system, the improvement was, naturally, far more apparent.

But even if the sound were identical, a serious Stokowski fan would want this disk for the rehearsal recording. There are many gems here: "Just be quiet, rest, don’t fiddle with your instruments. Let me do the talking, please .... Don’t be machines. Music is heart ... It wasn’t together? There are times in music when it shouldn’t be together. You did it perfectly. You have a talent for it [laughter] ... Permit yourselves to get excited. How do your wives do it for you?...[to the producer] You want it slower here and faster there? Oh, you have the wrong conductor. ... [to the orchestra] You’re going on tour? Are you going to Cleveland? [laughter] You’re going to New York? Cleveland goes to New York. They know good playing in New York. ... You can do it. If anybody can’t do it, there’s the door. If I give everything, you give everything. Please ..."

Much as I admire Stokowski, I sometimes find his Tchaikovsky in general overly sentimentalised and lacking in tension, in comparison to recordings by other artists. Stokowski was himself clearly not pleased with many of his Tchaikovsky recordings as they are quite different from each other in general, as though the maestro never quit searching for the perfect balance. Or, it may have been a case of employing unusual tempi and dynamics as a means of waking up a jaded orchestra who had played the music too many times before. Tchaikovsky advised conductors to play his music as if it were Mozart. Stokowski is a fine Mozart conductor (and Vivaldi and Handel also, by the way) but he does not follow Tchaikovsky’s advice. My favourite Tchaikovsky conductors are Scherchen, Dorati, Karajan and Reiner (well, OK, I do have a weakness for the Giulini Symphony #2). But, this performance is absolutely unimpeachably great, the audience obviously sharing that opinion by their vigorous applause.

Shortly after the review copies of this recording were sent out the producers discovered minor defects in the pressings, described as "largely in the form of (very slight) electronic clicks in the left channel" and I also detected a bit of studio noise during the final violin cadenza. We are assured that these defects occurred only in the advance review copies and that production copies will be free of defects, that Cala records are resolutely committed to producing a perfect product. Unfortunately the ‘comp list’ is rather long, and, contrary to the producer’s intentions, contrary to the producer’s wishes, many of those comp copies, will end up for sale in record shops or perhaps jumble sales. However, the defects are all but impossible to hear unless you have a critically quiet music room and listen very closely, no louder than the occasional creaking folding chair; and certainly not nearly so loud as the clicks in Stokowski’s RCA CSO recording of Shostakovich’s Sixth Symphony, where a highlight microphone was inadvertently left on as a wind soloist rattled the keys on his instrument while practising silently. For my part I judged it not worth the bother of requesting a replacement copy, but you may call +44 (0) 20 8883 7306 for information on how to obtain a replacement.

The RCA recording with the RPO, available on a budget price CD pressing as well as in the "Stokowski Stereo Collection" boxed set, was done 11 years after the Decca version, featuring the same violin soloist. The perspective is a little more natural (particularly the percussion) if more distant, the playing as fluent if just a tad less precise, and the surround sound no more accurate or effective than any stereo CD recording played in "ambient" mode with your Dolby surround sound decoder. But of course if you’re a fanatic like me you have to have that one, too. Stokowski after all could never play anything exactly the same way twice, and in the RPO recording he segues the second movement onto the first with a held violin note.

Paul Shoemaker

 

Rob Barnett has also listened to this recording

Apart from a slight tendency to congeal at climaxes this is a cracking version of Scheherazade. It is a paradigm of supple shaping and flowing vitality. The LP age 'Phase Four' technology does produce some 'gorgeous' spotlighting but when it means that you are floating above Erich Gruenberg's seductive violin you can easily ignore any purist leanings. Listen also to Roger Birnstingl's serenading bassoon at the start of The Story of the Kalendar Prince and later Roger Lord's fruity oboe. The gritty and super-precise attack of the brass is a joy to hear. Stokowski is a magician in so many details - take 1.10 (tr. 3) where the flexible lively ascents and descents of harp and clarinet (Osian Ellis and Gervase de Peyer no less) are microscopically managed to extract maximum effect. Listen too to the elfin stabbing climax Stokowski makes at 9.10 in the final movement.

Thanks to Cala for making such a stunning job of this Scheherazade which has about it nothng of the mundane or commonplace or the tired or routine.

The recording was made in 1964 so you must make some allowance for the slight stridency on the massed violins but that is the only demerit. My own recommendations certainly go to this disc but would also include Stokowski's later RCA version with the RPO, Kondrashin, Svetlanov (BMG-Melodiya), Serebrier (greatly underrated version on Reference Recordings), Ormandy (Sony) and Beecham (take your pick). Stokowski's Scheherazade is pure magic - a warhorse reinvented for jaded ears.

Speaking of warhorses, next comes the Marche Slave which is a trial at the best of times. Stokowski keeps it flowing along and his emphases and detailing lend some of the freshness it so desperately needs.

For Stokowski specialists you get the enchanting mini-speech he gave at his 90th birthday concert and we owe it to Edward Johnson that we can also hear the charm and transient ire of Stokowski rehearsing the LSO in Scheherazade.

Rob Barnett

 

see also earlier review by Jonathan Woolf

 



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