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Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) Symphonic Transcriptions
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-1881)

A Night on a Bare Mountain (1867, arr Stokowski 1939) [9'17]; Khovanshchina – Entr'acte to Act IV (1872-80, arr. 1922) [5'25]; Symphonic Synthesis of Boris Godunov (1874, arr. 1936) [24'21]; Pictures at an Exhibition (1874, arr. 1939)
Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Morceaux, Op. 10 (1871) – No. 2, Humoresque (arr. 1941) [2'11]; Solitude ('Again, as before, alone'). Op. 73 No. 6 (1893, arr. 1936) [3'26]
Leopold STOKOWSKI (1882-1977)
Traditional Slavic Christmas Music (1933) [3'18]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. The Lighthouse, Poole, UK 21-23 September 2004. Also includes bonus disc of 'Russian Romantic Classics' – music from Glinka to Shostakovich from the Naxos catalogue [68'47]. DDD
NAXOS NAXOS 8.557645 [76'47]


Stokowski's urge to transcribe was insatiable: over 200 works in total. To a large degree one's reaction is personal – either they are great fun or distasteful. Take the Night on a Bare Mountain that opens this disc – the opening is spectral, almost hallucinogenic here. Some effects are clearly over-the-top: trombone whoops, a slithery descent to the depths – 7'15; or orchestral 'screaming' - 5'35 etc. One thing soon becomes apparent – this release is a gift if one wishes to demonstrate top-class recording quality. That is pretty much what we have here - courtesy of Neil Paker and Phil Rowlands, both names new to me. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, too, relishes every mouth-watering opportunity.

The Entr'acte to Act IV of Khovanshchina is both dark and imposing. Serebrier brings a feeling of space (almost 'stretching') to the musical fabric. This is wonderful.

Symphonic syntheses were a Stokowski 'thing'. The Boris example here is a case in point, and it is difficult to imagine a more loving performance than this one. Slow passages are lovingly shaped, while the Coronation music has a sense of space as well as celebration about it. In contrast, there are real pianissimi around the 13 minute mark, a true oasis of peace. As one listens, it becomes increasingly apparent that Serebrier understands as no-one else apart from the transcriber himself the aesthetic basis of this music. From this comes a sense of significance as the music unfolds, seemingly inevitably - Stokowski is wonderful at 'stitching bits together'. Oh, and if you want to show off your hi-fi, the almighty crescendo preceding 22'38 is the place to do it.

Pictures begins in the smoothest of fashions with single-line strings soon fleshed out into the full section. There are almost frightening brass crescendos in 'Gnomus' to ensure fullest contrast to the pppp second Promenade. A sax-less 'Old Castle' leads to a fast-paced 'Bydlo' (Polish Ox-Wagon), with a real tramp to the lower strings. The 'Ballet of the Chicks in their Shells' is rather slow and careful, however; better is 'Goldberg and Schmuyle', with its well-recorded lower strings. But the crowning glories of this Pictures are the final two movements. 'The Hut on Fowl's Legs' is certainly exciting, and the recording is so analytical it leaves you breathless. It sounds like fun was had by all, too. The 'Great Gate' is massively impressive because Serebrier does not play up the cushion of sound effects. Mysterious passages verge, once more, on the fantastical. The huge crescendo at the end is the icing on the cake.

The Tchaikovsky transcriptions are little worlds in their own right, delivered here with great affection. The 'Humoresque' is rather jolly, while 'Solitude' reaches the status of mini-Symphonic Poem. The Traditional Slavic Christmas Music is based on Ippolitov-Ivanov's In a Manger - itself based on a Christmas Hymn. Scored for brass and strings only, there is a certain mesmeric aspect that lends the work a depth of expression.

Detailed notes by the conductor and by Edward Johnson of The Stokowski Society round out a superb release. No wonder this is Naxos's self-appointed CD of the Month for September.

The 'bonus' disc includes 13 excerpts from previous Naxos releases. All the favourites of the Russian repertoire are there, from the Sabre Dance to Ruslan and Ludmilla, from that pesky Bumble-Bee to that Gadfly.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Jonathan Woolf

 

 



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