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

A Night on Bare Mountain (1866, Stokowski 1939) [9.17]
Entr’acte to Act IV of Khovanschina (1922) [5.25]
Symphonic Synthesis of Boris Godunov (1868, Stokowski 1936) [24.21]
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874 Stokowski 1939) [28.49]
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Humoresque Op.10 No.2 (1872, Stokowski 1941) [2.11]
Solitude Op.73 No.6 (1936) [3.26]
Leopold STOKOWSKI (1882-1977)

Traditional Slavic Christmas Music (1933) [3.18]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/José Serebrier
Recorded at the Lighthouse, Poole, September 2004
NAXOS 6.110101 SACD [76.47]

There have been an increasing number of new recordings of Stokowski’s Mussorgsky symphonic transcriptions but this must be one of the best yet to be encountered. It’s superbly recorded – my set up is not wired for SACD but it sounds sumptuous enough without it – and encompasses prodigious orchestral detail. At the helm is Serebrier, for five years Stokowski’s associate conductor (three letters from the older man to the young Serebrier are reprinted in the booklet and they reveal his laconic wit as well as professional concern – and an eye for the ladies).

The transcriptions span the years 1922-1941 if we include the delightful pendant of the two Tchaikovsky pieces. A Night on Bare Mountain is characteristically bold and dramatic though the extrovert flourishes are balanced but incisive lyricism and it’s this duality that gives the piece its tensile strength. Serebrier’s sonorities and editorial decisions are his own, not Stokowski’s – he makes no overt attempt to replicate the Stokowski recording. The famous Symphonic Synthesis of Boris Godunov dates from 1936. The Bournemouth orchestra reveal real flair and finesse and they seem to relish the drama and passion of the score. It’s useful to be reminded of Stokowski’s own transcription of Pictures at an Exhibition. It was completed in 1939 and involves the removal of Tuileries and The Market Place at Limoges. In his notes Serebrier speculates that they sounded too French for Stokowski who, whilst he greatly admired Ravel’s work, felt it nevertheless insufficiently Russian.

Stokowski’s elegant string cantilena is certainly removed from Ravel’s more cosmopolitan sound and he tends to strip away Ravel’s effects, preferring instead a strongly glowering, darker patina. The darker textures are part of the conductor’s conception , but he also indulges plenty of wit in the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks or Ballet of the Chickens in their Shells to give it its presumably echt Stokowskian title. The Catacombs by contrast is truly sepulchral and in the Great Gate of Kiev there are some astounding trombone figures, chattering winds, braying trumpets and lower brass and a powerful climax. Splendid to hear all this, and so well played too.

The Humoresque makes a charming pendant, as indeed does Solitude but there is also Stokowski’s own Traditional Slavic Christmas Music (1933), based on Ippolitov-Ivanov’s In a Manger which was itself derived from a Christmas hymn. This is the kind of transcription at which Stokowski was so much a master – it bears some comparison with the Philadelphia Two Ancient Liturgical Melodies transcription and is almost as compelling.

A warm welcome to this disc, made possible through grants from the Stokowski Society and the BSO Endowment Trust, for presenting Stokowski’s transcriptions with such finesse, power and elegance and such persuasive intelligence.

Jonathan Woolf



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