One of Stokowski’s crusades was to increase
the accessibility of classical music
to a wider audience. An important element
in this was his transcription of the
works of J.S. Bach for the modern orchestra
exploiting its wide sonic ‘colour’ palette.
But these transcriptions go much further.
They could be regarded as re-compositions,
for the late-romantic orchestra, in
the manner of Wagner or Tchaikovsky.
It will also be remembered that Stokowski,
himself, conducted this material for
Walt Disney’s film Fantasia. Of
course he was attacked by the purists.
To them he responded, “The important
thing is not the instrument, but the
feeling expressed. You may not agree.
Everyone has a right to his own opinion
and so do I”.
The recordings on
this CD were made between 1927 and 1939. Electric recordings
had just begun to appear in the mid-1920s. Consequently this
is rather primitive mono sound but the producer and audio restoration
engineer for this collection, Mark Obert-Thorn, must be congratulated.
The results represent an outstanding achievement in restoring
such a clean and remarkably unwavering sound.
The virtuoso Philadelphia
Orchestra, considered one of the top American orchestras, had
a luxuriant orchestral style. It was eminently suited to these
opulent transcriptions and Stokowski draws from it powerful
and deeply affecting performances. He instils extra grandeur
and magnificence to Bach’s monumental Passacaglia and Fugue
in C minor and to the Toccata and Fugue in D minor. He adds
a new dimension to the selections from The Well-Tempered
Clavier, a moving pathos, for example, to the E flat minor
Prelude; and an amplified sense of piety in his sensitive treatment
of the Three Chorale Preludes. The transcription of the
Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor, made in 1934, was for a reduced
orchestra - economies were necessary after the Wall Street crash
of 1929 and the subsequent Great Depression. The Partita, then,
was probably a deliberate choice by Stokowski because his transcription
sensitively combines a muted chamber music-like intimacy with
a more colourful splendour in the more extrovert passages.
It should be mentioned
that an excellent modern recording of a selection of the Bach-Stokowski
transcriptions is available on Naxos
8.557883 with Jose Serebrier conducting the Bournemouth
The present Naxos
album is an essential purchase for all Stokowski fans.
see also Review
by Rob Maynard