This is the second
and last of Stokowski’s commercial recordings of the Pastoral.
The earlier traversal was with the New York City Symphony Orchestra
in 1945, a recording already reviewed
I see now I was needlessly brief, though
admiring, in that review claiming the Mozart-Beethoven disc
was “one in the eye” for those who routinely belittled Stokowski’s
handling of these composers. I have to say that, once again,
there’s little in this later performance to disappoint and a
huge amount to admire. Once again the principal idiosyncrasy
is one of tempo relationships. In an interesting temporal shift
over nearly a decade Stokowski slowed forty five seconds in
the first, second and last movements. The Peasants’ Merrymaking
and the Thunderstorm obviously have less room for
manoeuvre of this sort but also show subtle shifts.
The ear will be struck by the spacious preparation
of phraseology and by the elegance and affection that underlines
the reading. The NBC section leaders are all noted in the booklet
so we can hear and put a name to some of the stronger contributions.
I’m thinking here of clarinettist Arthur Williams in the first
movement and the very resonant double bass team led by Philip
Sklar whose over recorded trenchancy is a distinctly enlivening
part of the proceedings. The brook certainly moves very slowly
and limpidly but it’s full of fine wind incident and caressing
care. Stokowski unfolds it with loving security and leisurely
affection inspiring some hushed violin playing as well as perky
bassoon lines. It’s not only the double basses that leap from
the sound perspective. The winds in The Peasants’ Merrymaking
positively jump out of their seats to attract your attention.
Not perhaps quite as earthy and tight as that earlier 1945 recording
this is still a reading full of humanity and drive. In fact
character and ardour are prime features of the conductor’s way
with the Pastoral. Some might demur at the finale’s balancing
of first violins and some questions of string weight but the
curve of the phrasing, as such, is often delectable. Nothing
sounds milked or done for effect. And once more Stokowski proves
a highly personalised but very sensitive Beethovenian.
We get a number of bonuses. There’s a talk
from the conductor called Sounds of Nature where we find
him sporting his fake Polish accent amidst native English vowels.
It’s reminiscent of his talks for 78 sets in its almost deliberate
naivety, fusing the sound of a running brook with Beethoven’s
own depiction of it. And then giving us bird song.
The Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies make for colourful
ballast. The second is richly saucy with more of those deeply
etched basses to the fore. In the third there’s an unlikely
role for cimbalon and viola - the latter replacing the clarinet
– with the string instrument deliberately guilty of some highly
If you only know of Stokowski’s way with
the Pastoral through the soundtrack to Fantasia
this NBC performance will cement the generally fine interpretative
gestures heard both there and in the New York City Symphony
performance. Latitude will prove necessary in some respects
but those attuned to his sensibility will find him a most humane
and generous guide.