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The New York Philharmonic Recordings
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Symphony No. 6 in e minor [29:16]
(First recording, originally issued on Columbia Masterworks LP ML 4214)
Pyotr Ilych TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893) Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture [19:07] (Originally issued on Columbia Masterworks LP ML 4071)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Symphony No. 35 in D Major ‘Haffner’ [15:17]
Thomas Jefferson SCOTT (1912-1961)
From the Sacred Harp [6:48]
(With introductory remarks by the composer) [:55]
Jaromir WEINBERGER (1896-1967)
Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper [7:30] Recording dates: 21 February 1949 (RVW);. 28 November 1949 (PIT); Recorded in Columbia Records’ 30th Street Studios, New York 20 November 1949 (WAM); 30 February 1949 (TJS) originally issued on V-Disc 896; 16 January 1949 (JW). Live recordings from Carnegie Hall, New York. DDD CALA CACD0537 [78:58]

Leopold Stokowski spent four seasons (1946-1950) as the conductor of the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York, the ancestor of what is now known as the New York Philharmonic. During that time, he made a number of important recordings, and this disc represents the third volume of the same, presented here under the auspices of the Leopold Stokowski Society.

Of particular importance here the Vaughan Williams Sixth Symphony, which although first heard in the United States in Boston under Koussevitsky, was given its premiere recording by Stokie’s New Yorkers. Ever a champion of new music, Stokowski held Vaughan Williams in particularly high esteem, as they had been students together at the Royal College of Music in London. Although Vaughan Williams was ten years older than Stokowski, they had a long and productive friendship with Stokowski conducting the American premieres of a number of the composer’s symphonies.

It is immediately evident in this performance that Stokowski had had ample time to place his indelible imprint on the New York orchestra. Seldom have I heard the string section of this ensemble sound so rich and clear. No other conductor has been able, at least to these ears, to accomplish the clarity of line, the warmth of tone and the rhythmic tautness that is heard in this performance. And, Stokowski shows that he was no mere romantic sentimentalist as he presents this work with all of its innate drive and dissonance quite intact. Regrettably, Sony was unable to provide a flawless master, and there is a bit of surface noise from the transfer discs that makes for a mild annoyance. On the whole, however, the sound quality is first rate.

Stokowski’s reading of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo is stunning if not a bit controversial. The conductor rewrote the ending of the work so that it would end quietly, instead of with the blaring chords over timpani strikes heard in most readings. Apparently there is some legitimate historical support for this approach. Although there is no evidence extant in the composer’s hand, several reliable sources including the widow of Rimsky-Korsakov and the composer’s own brother, validate Stokowski’s changes.

As for the performance, it is utterly breathtaking. How wonderful it is to hear real, honest-to-goodness portamento in the string sections! This is one of Tchaikovsky’s most sweeping and dramatic scores, and the New Yorkers play with all of the soul and storm of a Russian winter in this amazing performance. The quality of the transfer is above reproach.

The Mozart Haffner comes in at just fifteen minutes, which would indicate a sizeable amount of editing and some mighty brisk tempo choices. This doesn’t really detract from the performance, and the lines are kept clear in spite of the sizeable string complement. Stokowski was clearly not a classicist, however, and this performance arrives as more of a curiosity than any profound statement about the music.

Filling out the disc are two shorter works, the most interesting of which is the short work by American Thomas Jefferson Scott, based on folk hymns from the Sacred Harp an 1830s vintage collection of pioneer folk hymns and spirituals. Transferred from a V-disc, the records that were produced from 1943-49 especially for the American servicemen stationed abroad. It is particularly noteworthy for the brief comments that the composer makes before the performance itself. Many artists, who made these special recordings, including such luminaries as Toscanini, Rubinstein and Piatigorsky, gave spoken personal introductions addressed to the soldiers.

Cala’s production values are rather hit and miss. Why for example are only two of the composer’s dates listed in the booklet? Sound quality too is not terribly consistent, but this can be forgiven due to the varied condition of the source material.

In all, this is a valuable disc, and for Stokowski fans in particular it is a vivid portrait of a uniquely talented artist in his prime. Recommended.

Kevin Sutton

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