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Cala Records

Stokowski conducts Baroque Masterworks in Phase 4 Stereo
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
The Four Seasons

Hugh Bean (violin)
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Messiah – Highlights
Ev’ry valley shall be exalted
And the glory of the Lord
Pastoral Symphony
Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened
Thy rebuke hath broken His heart
He was cut off out of the land
Why do the nations
I know that my Redeemer liveth
Since by man came death
Sheila Armstrong (soprano)
Norma Procter (contralto)
Kenneth Bowen (tenor)
John Cameron (bass)
LSO and Chorus/Leopold Stokowski
Recorded London, June (Vivaldi) and September (Handel) 1966
CALA CACD 0538 [45.50 + 58.05]

As the notes to this welcome release make clear Stokowski had never conducted The Four Seasons before the Phase Four series of LPs of which this is so engaging an example. He, soloist Hugh Bean and the New Philharmonia went to the BBC’s Maida Vale studios and taped it for later broadcast (in the end it wasn’t until 1968 that it hit the airwaves), recording it the following day. The late Hugh Bean has recalled that it was in the can in one session – Stokowski remaining the professional to his batonless fingertips.

He used the Malipiero edition, a tradition reaching back to the first recording of the work, by Molinari in 1940. Smaller bands, such as Boyd Neel’s, had been experimenting with lighter textures from the 1930s onwards but by 1966, as now, catholicity reigned with regard to size, ornamentation and textual matters. One of the most obvious examples of Stokowski’s approach is his string moulding, especially the basses (sample the Allegro of Spring) and the big contrasts between forte and piano – dynamics are in a series of constant terracing and mobility. Elasticity of phrasing is here, certainly, but the effect is natural sounding and expressive within the traditions of a romantic approach. Echo effects are pressed home to good effect – try the final movement of Spring - and the recording set up is expertly employed to cope with the harpsichord, cello and violin solos in the Allegro non molto of Summer; a well balanced and judiciously adjudged spatial set up as well. In the same season’s Presto finale we hear the string entry points lapping like waves but also the unadorned, unvarnished and unornamented Largo of Winter. One could point to the Loveday/ASMIF/Marriner recording as being the exemplar of sensitivity here, but the noble simplicity of the Bean/Stokowski reading, with its share of expressive diminuendi and forceful orchestral pizzicati, command admiration.

The sessions for Messiah seem to have run on a similarly business-like basis. There were apparently balance checks but no extensive rehearsals – if indeed there was much of a rehearsal at all, though obviously there would have been run throughs for the soloists. Again Stokowski eschews exaggeration. The tempo is relatively slow though not unconscionably so. As with Vivaldi Stokowski encourages well-moulded string lines, as well as a characteristically veiled tone (especially in the Pastoral Symphony). His singers are in decent form; Bowen is rather lean voiced though able, Cameron is light voiced if agile, Armstrong sustains I know that my Redeemer liveth at an Isobel Baillie/Malcolm Sargent type of tempo and Norma Proctor is fine. Stokowski aims at legato phrasing and the long line; occasionally he puts up the soprano line (listen to Hallelujah and the final Amen), one presumes the better to cut through with added brilliance and brightness. Otherwise it’s quite a straight and narrow performance by his lights.

Phase 4 paid dividends in this brace of recordings; warm, deep, rich. Notes by Edward Johnson are up to his usual elucidatory standard. Admirers of the conductor won’t hesitate; even detractors might like to lend an ear.

Jonathan Woolf

Recordings warm, deep, rich. Admirers of Stokowski won’t hesitate; even detractors might like to lend an ear. ... see Full Review

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