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Cala Records


Georges ENESCO (1881–1955)
Rumanian Rhapsody No.1 in A, op.11/1 [11:23]
Rumanian Rhapsody No.2 in D, op.11/2 [11:29]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862–1918)
Nocturnes (1893/1899) [26:33]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882–1971)
Firebird Suite (1910–1919 version) [21:28]
Richard WAGNER (1813–1883)
Ride of the Valkyries (1808) [4:43]
Robert Shaw Chorale of Women’s Voices/Robert Shaw, Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra, All–American Youth Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. 17 April 1953 (Rumanian Rhapsody 1), 1 October 1953 (Rumanian Rhapsody 2), 11 October and 10 November 1950 (Nocturnes), 24 May and 7 June 1950 (Firebird), Manhattan Center, New York, 3 July 1941 (Ride of the Valkyries) Hollywood
re–issues from 33 1/3 rpm LP records, RCA LM – 1878 (Rhapsodies), RCA LM–1154 (Nocturnes), RCA LM–9029 (Firebird), Ride of the Valkyries previously unissued AAD
CALA CACD0549 [75:38]


Experience Classicsonline

Love him or hate him, Stokowski has held the attention of, first, the concert–going public and latter the record buying public for the better part of a century – his first recording, of two of Brahms’s Hungarian Dances, was made with the Philadelphia Orchestra, for the Victor Talking Machine Company in October 1917, and his last, of Bizet’s Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Italian were recorded in London with the National Philharmonic Orchestra shortly before his death in 1977.

He was variously referred to as “Magician”, “Sorceror” or “Wizard” because of the sumptuous sound he always produced from the orchestra he was conducting. He was an inveterate orchestrator and arranger, and this extended, sometimes, into his “touching up” the scores he conducted, but his was an older temperament and he was merely doing what he thought the composer would have done had he had the newer resources at hand at the time of composition. However, these “Amendments” were not always welcomed and after his death it was considered de rigueur to disparage his achievement. Fortunately, after a moratorium we are now re–assessing his work and we can see him as the great conductor and musician he so obviously was. Here we welcome three RCA recordings and a very unique recorded document. But let’s go back to the beginning.

Enesco’s 1st Rumanian Rhapsody has become a pot–boiler but it’s so much more than that – it’s a fabulously colourful evocation of country life, complete with local dance band and bags of enthusiasm in execution. A conductor really cannot fail with this piece. Stokowski certainly doesn’t – he plays it for all it’s worth and this is an highly powered, very exciting performance, with a little extra compositional help from the maestro. The 2nd Rhapsody has never achieved the popularity of the first, but it’s a more serious piece, and, very strangely, it could almost pass for an evening in old Mexico so languorous is the music – Revueltas without the attitude! Stokowski’s performance is excellent and highly coloured and perfumed.

Stokowski recorded Debussy’s Nocturnes three times complete and in the 1920s he recorded the first two. This is his second recording and the first he made for the LP. Incidentally, from 1947 to 1953, “His Symphony Orchestra” refers to a pick up band consisting of players principally drawn from the New York Philharmonic and NBC Symphony Orchestras. Nuages is given a delicate and almost winsome performance, the subtle shades of light and dark are full realised. Stokowski does pull the music about a little, there’s a couple of startling changes of tempo but this is all part of the conductor’s vision and he makes me believe in them. Ftes is given a virtuoso performance, and the middle section, starting with the quietest of drums, harps and muted trumpets, Debussy’s “Dazzling fantastic vision”, starts with the most incredible of pianissimos. As the parade approaches, and the orchestration fills out, he builds a big climax which never gets out of hand and is very well balanced. The end is truly magical. After this, Sirnes starts too loudly, but it soon settles down, and we have a sumptuous evocation of the Sirens, perhaps a bit too homely these women, they don’t scare me! Oh no! And at the end, where they fade away, the sound is terribly matronly. The musical side is well handled by Stokowski with the balance of light and shade, tension and release and the climax is gorgeous, but, perhaps too much so for the femme fatales.

The Firebird Suite was a Stokowski favourite, and this is the sixth of his eight recordings of the work. The quality of the performance is beyond question, The Round Dance of the Princess (movement 3) is delicious, here is the “Old Magician” working his special brand of magic, and the Infernal Dance fairly jumps out at you with its power and attack. It’s difficult to fault this performance, even with Stokowski’s bringing the Infernal Dance to a complete stop – no transition into the Berceuse – and an unfortunate recording of the horns towards the end where they bray their upward rushes just before the final statement of the main theme for full orchestra, an unfortunate blemish on an otherwise enjoyable experience.

All these recordings are very clear and precise, if a little hard-edged, and the sound is very forward, it’s almost as if you’re on the stage next to the conductor, so bright is the sound. It’s impossible to believe that these recordings were made over 50 years ago!

The final track is very exciting for several reasons, the most important of which is that this recording, made in 1941, is in a very basic stereo. 78 rpm discs were found to be labelled left and right and, sure enough, two microphones were used when the recording was made and here is the result. In his excellent notes in the booklet Edward Johnson speculates on how and why this was recorded in the way it was. It’s a thrilling, and sometimes raucous, account of a famous nugget and makes a marvellous and breath–taking end to a most interesting disk.

If you demand perfect fidelity to the score then this isn’t for you, if, however, you believe in the validity of varied interpretation then this is an absolute must!

Bob Briggs



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