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Leopold Stokowski
Symphony No. 5 in D minor (1937) [40:51]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 8 in D minor (1953-55) [30:15]
London Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Rec. live, Royal Albert Hall, London, 15 (8), 17 (4) September 1964.
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4165-2 [71:40]


These two tapes from the 1964 Proms are in many ways valuable retrievals and I have been churlishly slow in reporting back.

Stokowski is one of those conductors who can be fascinatingly successful and can just as fascinatingly leave the listener surprised and disappointed.

He had given four of Shostakovich's symphonies their USA premieres during the period 1928 to 1958 (1, 1928; 3, 1932; 6, 1940; 11, 1958). He clearly knew his stuff.

This Proms version of Shostakovich 5 in a very lively ambience with the odd shuffle and cough is with the LSO. It has plenty of life and that essential rawness is there in some quantity. There is no deficit of eager savagery in the final movement.

Overall I found this more interesting and intermittently engaging rather than consistently gripping although the finale has a fine trampingly relentless energy. My slightly cooled reaction is not echoed by the audience (nor by Ian Lace - see comparative review) who greet the performance with real enthusiasm.

Stokowski's Vaughan Williams is always worth having. In the first movement Stokowski who had, at this time, performed six of the nine symphonies for American audiences keeps up the tight rhythmic control. The performance is full of tension but idyllically relaxed for example at 3:12 in the first movement. Is the accelerator too far down in the second movement e.g. at 00.45 where the music moves at such a lick it more often sounds like Shostakovich than RVW. Stokowski finds an ethereal distancing in the Cavatina but melodically speaking it is not the strongest of the composer's inspirations - not a patch on e.g. the middle movement of the Tuba Concerto. The finale is rousingly raucous with chimes and percussion chatter caught between RVW's own Sinfonia Antartica and Britten's Prince of the Pagodas. Again the applause is uproarious.

Michael Jameson's notes are packed with freshly collected information. An object lesson in ringing the changes and also informing and enriching the listener.

Neither of these retrievals are totally compelling. A flame certainly intensely lights up many passages in the Shostakovich. The Vaughan Williams work is best heard, I think, in Barbirolli's studio version still available in a British double from Dutton.

This disc is more for completists whether in pursuit of RVW, Shostakovich or that old magician Stokowski.

Rob Barnett

see also Review by Ian Lace



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