The year 1974
saw almost the last of Stokowski’s many thousands of concerts.
In one of his last appearances with the LSO he performed this
brace of works and shortly after went into Brent (Wembley)
Town Hall to record them. The final concert, maybe a touch
incongruously, was with the Rouen Chamber Orchestra in Venice
in July 1975. Whilst there were no more concerts there were
recordings but it must be admitted that this is not one of
the greatest examples of the great man’s art.
for Strings opens with a marmoreal bass line weighted
darkest brown. The tonal contrast with the fiddles is dramatic
and sculptured and, if one’s honest, rather blatant. The tempi
sound forced and somewhat unstable. The Waltz is the best
of the four movements, charmingly pointed and with a certain
elegance, though in the Elegy the string colouration
sounds uncommonly like Vaughan Williams, of whom of course
Stokowski was a contemporary and a distinguished exponent.
Despite this however the endemic restlessness of rhythm that
was to plague him in his last years makes itself felt. The
finale starts very sleepily and is rather ponderous. It was
however his only commercial recording of the complete Serenade
– an earlier single movement had been issued from a New
Stokowski recorded Francesca da Rimini
three times, firstly with the NYPSO (on Cala) in 1947
and then over a decade later in 1958 with the Stadium Symphony
Orchestra (so-called; on Dell’Arte and Vanguard-Omega Classics).
Both are preferable to his final London recording. This is
the slowest of the three performances as one might expect,
given Stokowski’s advanced years, and his grip by some way
the loosest. Tempi tend to be rather elastic and incidents
can get rather flabby. The opening passages don’t generate
the inexorable drive of the 1947 New York performance and
later on things do become rather becalmed.
The SACD remastering
of the Quad original is exciting but tends to exacerbate a
problem with the original set up, which was one of spread
and lack of definition and body in the string tone. Tutti
weight is nowhere near optimum. Given these drawbacks I’d
suggest this is one for the Stokowski completist.