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Stokowski conducts Percy Grainger Favourites and others
Percy GRAINGER (1882-1961) Country Gardens* [1:32]; Mock Morris [2:55]; Early One Morning [3:30]; Shepherd's Hey* [1:36]; Irish Tune from County Derry [3:30]; Molly on the Shore [3:26]; Handel in the Strand* [3:45]
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957) Berceuse from The Tempest (arr. Stokowski) [4:59]; Valse Triste from Kuolema [4:30]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958) Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis [16:03]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943) Vocalise [7:51]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916) Intermezzo from Goyescas (arr. Otto Langey) [4:46]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Clair de Lune (orch. Stokowski) [5:29]
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962) Escales (Ports of Call) (I. Rome-Palermo; II. Tunis-Nefta; III. Valencia) [14:09]
Leopold Stokowski conducts his Symphony Orchestra
* Percy Grainger at the piano
rec. 31 May, 8 Nov 1950 (Grainger); 15 Mar 1950, 4 Oct 1949 (Sibelius); 3 Sept 1952 (RVW); 25 Feb 1953 (Rachmaninov); 11 Dec 1947 (Granados); 24 May 1947 (Debussy); 11 Feb 1951 (Ibert)
CALA CACD0542 [77:58]

 

 

This collection of mono recordings originally made by RCA during the period 1947 to 1953 showcases Stokowski in a series of ragingly colourful orchestral miniatures.

Cala 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 time.”

Aptly 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.

After 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.

Speaking of the strings we come to Vaughan WilliamsTallis 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 (cello).

This 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.

The 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.

The 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!

The 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 go.

Stokowskian 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.

Rob Barnett

 

 



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