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Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor (1958) [38:58]
Alan HOVHANESS (1911-2000)

Symphony No. 2 Mysterious Mountain (1955) [18:49]
Wallingford RIEGGER (1885-1961)

New Dance Op. 18b (1942) [5:55]
Paul CRESTON (1906-1985)

Toccata Op. 68 (1957) [12:34]
Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra
rec. live, Carnegie Hall, 25 Sept 1958. ADD
CALA CACD0539 [73:17]


Cala has given us a brace of arch alchemist Stokowski’s Vaughan Williams Symphonies in previous releases. The Fourth was a scorcher and the Sixth was in phenomenally restored sound – much better than has ever been heard before: a revelation in fact. And now we have the valedictory Ninth in the work’s American premiere given in September 1958. Composer and conductor went way back – back to 1896 in fact when they were both at the Royal College of Music – and Stokowski was to conduct six of the nine symphonies throughout his long career.

This performance of the Ninth is the one that provoked Percy Grainger to write to the composer’s widow in praise of it ("perfect in every way") and indeed there are some typically alchemical touches and wonderful instrumental playing. The harp and bass clarinet in the first movement are vividly demonstrative even if the tape is not sufficiently focused to limit spread and diffusion in the lower strings and percussion. The solo violin registers well in its veiled intimacy – in fact Stokowski constantly stresses the lyricism here – and the brass nobility is palpable. The Flugel, the instrument that so entranced VW, is a heroic presence in the Andante sostenuto and Stokowski brings out the bardic writing of the slow movement with driving drama; he was always magnificent at what I’d call evocative tension and so it proves here. Perhaps it takes an American band – at least in 1958 - to give us the kind of cocksure saxophones that grace the third movement, and the percussion as well, in the bluffly warm Scherzo. The finale is very strong on incident, on local colour, and evokes time and place with eloquence; what it can’t do is to effect quite the sense of architectural surety that others find in it. It’s by some way the longest movement and needs to be kept on a tighter rein but Stokowski’s final pages certainly have culminatory force, and power.

Riegger’s New Dance is a feisty, rhythmically intense little piece strong on dramatic attack – and strongly played – and Creston’s Toccata continues the abrasive-but-not unbearable theme. Though it courts brash paraphernalia along the way there’s a lyrical Rachmaninovian kernel to the Toccata that tends to inspire admiration. And few were better suited to explore the cantilever of that kind of lyricism than ex-Philadelphia’s Stokowski who plays it to the hilt. The other Symphony is Hovhaness’s Mysterious Mountain (No.2) commissioned and premiered by Stokowski and the Houston Orchestra (the conductor famously took a shine to Hovhaness and gave the US premiere of a number of his works including the earlier First Symphony). From the massed Tallis string choirs through orchestral shimmer to the fine trumpet part, Stokowski keeps a tighter hand than he had in the finale of the VW. The middle movement’s double fugue is compellingly argued and excellently voiced by Stokowski’s eponymous orchestra.

Cala’s booklet is, as ever, graced by Edward Johnson’s excellent note and some evocative photographs. The tapes are in generally fine condition – nothing will mediate between the listener and grateful appreciation of this memorable concert, memorably conveyed to us here.

Jonathan Woolf

See also review by Rob Barnett

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