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Leopold Stokowski and the NBC Symphony Orchestra
Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Suite from The Love of Three Oranges Op.33a (1921) [8:26]
Edward MACDOWELL (1860-1908)

Piano Concerto No.2 in D minor Op.23 – movements 1 and 2 only (1888-89) [18:11]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Symphony No.4 in E minor Op.98 (1884-85) [35:48]
Deems TAYLOR (1885-1966)

Ramuntcho – Introduction and Ballet Music, Act III (1942) [8:12]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. Cosmopolitan Opera House (City Centre), New York, 18 November 1941 (Prokofiev and Brahms), Studio 8H, New York, 7 April 1942 (MacDowell) and 26 December 1943 (Taylor)
Experience Classicsonline


Stokowski Time from Guild. Specifically Stokowski and the NBC between 1941 and 1943. The Prokofiev and the Brahms derive from the same concert, given in Cosmopolitan Opera House (City Centre), New York, on 18 November 1941. Both pieces are announced by the conductor, albeit briefly. The Suite from The Love of Three Oranges was presumably a trial run for the commercial recording he set down about ten days later. In any case the NBC sounds superbly drilled and ready to give of their proverbial all. The Inferno is powerful, the Prince and Princes done with Stokowskian succulence; and the March – very, very brisk by the way – is military in its intensity.

Talking of which, the same concert’s Brahms E minor Symphony registers with very much the same kind of kinetic force as all his surviving performances of it. There’s a galvanic, surging sweep that remains exciting even if one finds oneself resisting the torrid momentum he invokes. It’s actually quicker by nearly two minutes than his last, live thoughts on the matter (see review). In that performance, given with the New Philharmonia at the Albert Hall in 1974, I noted the basic consistency of approach since his first 1931 recording of the Fourth. Local incidents of course differ; so too questions of dynamics and especially accelerandi, but it is evident that his essential approach remained intact over the years and didn’t undergo great re-appraisal. The surging cantabile of the NBC in the first movement is notable, so too the typically volatile power keg nature of Stokowski’s leadership. Sometimes the acoustic is watery and that does dissipate things slightly. But the tensile and lithe instinct for drama, the portamentos in the second movement (especially), and the taut bracing determinism of the reading are cleansing. A pity the brass begin to tire but all Stokowskians will want to hear this major symphonic statement if they’ve not already done so.

Don’t be misled by the MacDowell. The third movement wasn’t played so we have the torso of the first two movements only. This was a concerto Stokowski returned to a few times; there was an unpublished recording in 1966 with Andre Watts. Here in 1942 he is paired with Frances Nash, a good though not outstanding player. The piano tone is a bit murky but it’s fascinating to hear Stoky whipping up the NBC in the agitato pages of the Larghetto calmato – it’s not always calmato when Stokowski’s around. Finally there’s Deems Taylor’s enjoyable and engagingly colourful, vital, vivid – choose your adjectives, they all apply – Ramuntcho which is duly dispatched with Stokowskian élan.

I believe the Prokofiev, Brahms and MacDowell have all been issued on Enno Riekena, a German CD label. I’m not aware of previous transfers of the Deems Taylor. In any case Guild gives them all a first international CD vantage. They sound in pretty reasonable shape, with provisos as noted, and with the usual good standard of documentation maintained it’s really a question of how balanced and valuable the programme is to the assiduous collector.

Jonathan Woolf
A balanced and valuable programme for the assiduous collector ... see Full Review



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