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Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Symphonic Syntheses by Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977):
Das Rheingold (1853-4): ‘Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla’ (ed. by Stokowski) [8:11]
Tristan und Isolde (1857-9): ‘Prelude to Act I’; ‘Liebesnacht’; ‘Liebestod’ [36:33]
Parsifal (1878-82): Symphonic Synthesis from Act III [15:51]
Die Walküre (1854-6) ‘Magic Fire Music’* and ‘Ride of the Valkyries’+ (arr.* ed.+ Stokowski) [13:53]
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra /José Serebrier
rec. Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, UK. 10-11 June 2006
NAXOS 8.570293 [74:28]


This new release follows on last year’s brilliant album of Stokowski Bach transcriptions (Naxos 8.557883) produced by the same team. 

The opening track sets the tone of the album. It will come as no surprise that Stokowski’s view of Das Rheingold’s final scene is gutsy and spectacular – out-Wagnering Wagner. The conductor’s enriched brass and percussion heighten Wagner’s colouring. The Bournemouth players must have had so much fun recording its sweep and grandeur, and the vivid evocations of the rainbow bridge across the valley of the Rhine. Throughout this album, they are backed by excellent engineered sound. 

Tristan was one of Stokowski’s favourite works. His expressive symphonic synthesis accents all the lovers’ despair and ecstasy. The symphonic synthesis consists of Wagner’s own concert version of the Prelude and Liebestod interpolating between them the music of the Liebesnacht from the second act; Stokowski’s intent to create an extended seamless symphonic poem. He did not alter Wagner’s scoring but limited his input to transferring the vocal lines to instrumentation: cellos for Tristan and violins for Isolde. The Liebesnacht occupies some 21 minutes of the 36½-minute whole and embraces music of the hunt nicely caught in distant perspective and a lovely nocturnal evocation of trees swaying gently in the sylvan woodlands underlining the lovers’ awakening and mounting passion. Serebrier invests a fragrant and voluptuous sensuality to match the unbridled passion of the celebrated Liebestod that follows and where its mounting excitement is literally edge-of-the-seat stuff; little wonder that this music is so often regarded as the sexiest in all the classical repertoire. 

In spite of his life-long championship of the music of Wagner, Stokowski conducted only one Wagner opera in its entirety, a concert performance of Parsifal during Easter 1933. He spoke of his synthesis of Act 3 thus: “I have tried to [communicate] the idea of [the] profound perception on Parsifal’s part of the mysteries of which the Holy Grail is a symbol and of which the outward manifestations are, first, Parsifal’s initiation, and then his acceptance by the Knights, and finally the acknowledgement of him as their leader.” The synthesis excludes the Good Friday Spell music - Wagner had already made a concert version of it - but includes the transformation music from the conclusion of the final moments when Parsifal heals Amfortas’s wound by touching it with his spear. This is a spellbinding and uplifting treatment. 

From Die Walküre comes familiar music, magnified in colour and thrills. Need I say more! 

José Serebrier, who contributes the concise, readable and erudite notes, was, for five years, Stokowski’s Associate Conductor at New York’s Carnegie Hall and was hailed by Stokowski as “the greatest master of orchestral balance”. Serebrier’s readings are studied: meticulous attention paid to orchestral colour, detail, perspectives, clarity, transparency, dynamics, accents and phrasing. 

Repeating the assertion in my review of Serebrier’s recording of the Stokowski Bach transcriptions, this album is one of the best packaged of Naxos’s releases mostly, I suspect, because the recording was “made possible through generous grants from the Leopold Stokowski Society and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Endowment Trust”. In addition to Serebrier’s notes, there is a contribution, “Stokowski and Wagner” by Edward Johnson of the Leopold Stokowski Society, and reproductions of three letters, dating from 1964/65, from Stokowski to Serebrier, one of which includes this cheeky remark: “Thank you also for sending a very pretty flute girl. More please!” 

Ravishing performances of Stokowski’s sumptuous take on Wagner. This album will undoubtedly figure in my list of outstanding releases for 2007. Don’t miss this one.

Ian Lace 





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