collection of mono recordings originally made by RCA during
the period 1947 to 1953 showcases Stokowski in a series of ragingly
colourful orchestral miniatures.
tell us that: “In 1949, Stokowski asked Percy Grainger to
make brand new orchestral arrangements of some of his most popular
pieces for a special recording project, utilising many colourful
instruments of the modern orchestra. Grainger was delighted
at the suggestion and also with the finished recording. He wrote
of its "freshness and vigour, never-failing clarity, and
exquisite tone colour." These seven 1950 Grainger/Stokowski
recordings now appear on CD as a complete set for the first
enough Molly follows Irish Tune from County Derry.
Where the Irish tune develops a positively ardent throb from
Stokowski’s gorgeous blandishments Molly jigs along,
chiming bright and even catching a momentary shadow of Petrushka.
Handel in the Strand makes sparing but telling use of
the additional percussion instruments. Grainger can be
heard at the piano here as also in Country Gardens and
Shepherd’s Hey. It must be remembered that these recordings
are from 1950: accordingly they are gripping, very forwardly
balanced and at moments of piled-high intensity the sound is
prone to becoming opaque.
Grainger’s juicy-jaunty miniatures Stokowski’s Sibelius is
a refreshing contrast. Also the recording quality seems unaccountably
more natural, tender and atmospheric than for the Grainger morsels.
This version of the Berceuse plumbs autumnal depths I
had not previously sensed and even looks back to The Bard
- another tone poem for harp and orchestra. Valse Triste
makes sensational use of dynamic variation and benefits
from sensitively mercurial pacing. It is given another very
refined recording although the string-tone develops a glaze
when high and intense.
of the strings we come to Vaughan Williams’ Tallis
Fantasia. It was a work he first conducted in Philadelphia
in 1926. It was also in his London swan-song concert in 1974.
Stokowski revels in the waves of pulsating string sound and
no doubt some will shrivel in face of this piled high romanticising.
It will not appeal to all but it is well worth experiencing
especially if you have difficulty with the reserve you may have
felt from mainstream conductors. Let’s put it this way: this
is more Barbirolli (to the power of ten) than it is Boult. The
string quartet in this case were David Rosensweig, Louis Gabowitz
(violins), William Lincer (viola) and the great Leonard Rose
sumptuous orchestral version of Rachmaninov’s Vocalise
(minus a soprano) was made by the composer at the request
of Koussevitsky in 1915. The original for voice and piano was
written in 1912. Stokowski milks the piece for all it’s worth
... and more. You gain an insight into what a Stokowski-conducted
Second Symphony Adagio might sound like.
Granados is an Intermezzo from his opera performed
in New York in 1916. It is played here in an arrangement by
Otto Langey (1851-1922) which reduces the original instrumentation.
However the castanets are still there! Langey also changes the
key. Once again this is taken at an unhurried pace. Hearing
it again in this version I wonder if Granados had heard Valse
Triste before he wrote this.
Debussy is given in Stokowski’s second orchestration.
It is warm and frankly invincibly and fragrantly mellifluous.
There are no reservations here and the Korngold-style vibraphone
contributions leave the listener in wonder. Swoon!
CD, which approaches 80 minutes playing time, ends with an
exotic display piece of some substance. While Ibert’s
Escales (Ports of Call) clearly owes much to Ravel and
Rimsky - but especially to Ravel - it is gloriously done. The
three movements are postcards from the ports Ibert’s destroyer
stopped off at during his Mediterranean tour of duty during
the Great War. Rome is rather Ravel-like but Palermo
is caught in an uproar of carnival; an even more
unbuttoned version of Bliss’s Rout and Melee Fantasque.
Tunis-Nefta reeks of the bazaar and Holst’s suite Beni
Mora is a cousin in music. Valencia taps back into
Chabrier’s España and Ravel’s La Valse and Rapsodie
Espagnole and none the worse for any of that. There must
be people who haven’t yet heard Escales. On no account
miss it and that showman Stokowski knows well how it should
legionaries will quite properly snap this up as will Grainger
completists. There are some magnificent performances here: notable
are the Ibert, Sibelius, Debussy and Vaughan Williams tracks.
Other items hold a dreadful fascination including a succulently
over the top Vocalise.