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Leopold Stokowski
(1840-1893) Swan Lake excerpts [57:00]
Johan STRAUß II An der schönen blauen Donau [6:49]; Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald [7:16]
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN Turkish March from Die Ruinen von Athen [2:06]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (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 disc, the latest in a long and distinguished line from Cala and the Leopold Stokowski Society, has its ups and downs.

With almost an hour of extracts from Swan Lake Stokowski presents Tchaikovsky to the listener in terms buoyant, succulent and tender. He’s not short on dignified feathery fantasy either - try the Allegro Moderato from Danses des Cygnes. Then again he sometimes takes, presumably studied, decisions to scout over emotional detail in impatient workaday style as in the moderato assai from the same sequence. Then he redeems all with a stomping airborne Coda which has the same El Cid Massenet-like propulsion as Danse Espagnole. Both harp and oboe have invitations to shine and whenever the door is held open for the NBCSO oboe he revels in the moment - as in Scène and its reprise in Act 3 on which Stokowski ends his selection. The harp shines forth in the fantasy Pas d’Action which at times looks forward to Debussy. The Tempo di Valse of Act I is done with many a delicious slur - telling music-making. On the debit side the brass sound positively flaccid in the Tempo di Valse. This sequence - very much of Stokowski’s creation - is a mixed blessing when all is said and done but the blessing does include the sensational Act 2 No. 10 Scène which launches the suite.

The Strauß An der schönen blauen Donau has that Stokowskian lilt but all the time one is aware of a ramrod tight control which here robbed the music of some of its charm. One almost wished he had taken more liberties. Things are better in Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald including a Honolulu-style zither lushly cradled in luscious echoes. Full of character this foray into Strauß is well worth hearing.
After two Viennese waltzes come two Turkish marches. The Beethoven one makes splendid spatial play with the jingle and skirl of the outlandish Turkish flavour. The march is seemingly heard faintly in the distance then reaches the listener in uproar only to fade gradually beyond the horizon like Ippolitov-Ivanov and his March of the Sirdar from the Caucasian Sketches. No such landscape games in the skittering by-play of the Mozart Rondo alla Turca.

All these recordings have been made with exacting care by Paschal Byrne from LP pressings. The sound is warm and confers a glistening close-up presence on the many instrumental solos. When it comes to the orchestral tuttis they are given a slightly soft-focus distance but then we are talking of recordings made half a century ago.

It seems that the Tchaikovsky sequence was also recorded in stereo but unfortunately those tapes have disappeared - unless you know better?

The background notes are all you could ask. They are by Richard Gate.

Although not quite a star offering I hope for many more issues in this series. Bring them on!

Rob Barnett


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