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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Lake excerpts [57:00]
Johan STRAUß II (1825-1899)
An der schönen blauen Donau
[6:49]; Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald [7:16]
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Turkish March
from Die Ruinen von Athen [2:06]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) (arr. Stokowski)
Rondo alla turca
from piano sonata K331 [2:47]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. NBC 20-21 Oct, 10-11 Nov 1954, 13 Jan, 10 Feb 1955 (Tchaikovsky); 13 Jan 1955 (Donau); 9 Feb 1955 (Strauss, Beethoven, Mozart). ADD mono
CALA CACD 0543 [75:49]

This is a first CD release for this 1954-55 Swan Lake, famously and idiosyncratically rearranged by the eminent conductor so that the second Act comes first, the Third Act second and the first Act brings up the rear. And just to complete things the Act 3 Scene concludes things, following on from Act I’s Coda of the Pas de deux. Stokowski being Stokowski this all works fine, and unless your purist and terpsichorean hackles rise at the impudence of the London-born magician you will soon submit to most of his blandishments.
These include the gorgeous liquidity of Act 2 No.10 – which opens the set – and the instrumental excellence of the orchestra. Listen to the anticipatory rasp of the New York trombones in Act II or to the splendid oboe principal, who plays in a most distinguished fashion throughout.  Then there are the violin and cello solos. I assume the evocative playing in Act I’s Andante (track 19) and in Act II’s Pas d’action is by concertmaster Mischa Mischakoff and that he is joined in the latter by Frank Miller, though there’s no indication of this anywhere, as doubtless there wasn’t at the time. Mischakoff in particular shows once more his characteristically sweet and vibrant tone, with its fast vibrato, whilst Miller is patrician and elegance itself. The brass calls are crisp and dramatic, with a fat cornet tone being richly evoked in the Danse napolitaine. The orchestra as I say plays throughout with gutsy drama and Stokowski encourages some lissom articulation, which sometimes borders on the inconsiderate, should you be a dancer. Flair is paramount here, fleetness too and richly characterised movements that attest to Stokowski’s affectionate warmth.
True, yes, there are some distractions; fine though it is to hear so nimble a harpist, the instrument is over-recorded to a draconian degree. The same is true for the unnatural spotlighting of the clarinet, especially in the Moderato assai of Act II – and elsewhere too. Speeds, as noted, can be over-fast. But with that naughty addition of the Drigo interpolation this is an enjoyable melange, wrong order or not, and not to be missed by the Stokowski collector.
To complete the collection we have some rather camp classics. Willi Boskovsky would not necessarily approve of Stokowski’s way with Johann Strauss – there’s even a Hawaiian electric/steel (?) guitar in the mix of Tales from the Vienna Woods, which must have raised a sardonic smile from the conductor. There is some Turkish flim-flam to conclude, the Beethoven taking advantage of spatial knob turning to make its point to maximal effect.
The notes as always in this series are both helpful and well written. The Swan Lake is in mono – it was originally recorded in stereo as well but the stereo tapes have disappeared. The sound is very good, too; there’s some residual very high-level hiss and some rumble on the tapes as well but you’d have to go looking for it to find it.
Plenty of entertainment and incident here and the usual ration of Stokowski idiosyncrasy.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett


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