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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) transc. Leopold STOKOWSKI (1882-1977) Stokowski Transcriptions
Toccata and Fugue in D minor (for organ) BWV 565 [8:45]
Three Chorale Preludes
Ich ruf ‘ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ BWV 639 [3:37]
Nun komm der Heiden Heiland BWV 599 [4:42] *
Wir glauben all’ einen Gott BWV 680 [3:33]
Three Selections from Book One of The Well-Tempered Clavier
Prelude XXIV in B minor, BWV 869 [4:32]
Prelude VIII in E flat minor BWV 853 [4:58]
Fugue II in C minor BWV 853 [4:58]
Violin Partita No. 2 in D minor (Chaconne) BWV 1004 [18:17] *
Ein feste Burg (Chorale Prelude after Luther) BWV 80 [3:42]
Three Transcriptions of Organ Works
Adagio (from Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C minor) BWV 564 [4:38] *
“Little” Fugue in G minor BWV 578 [3:46] *
Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV 582 [13:04]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. 1927-1929, Academy of Music, Philadelphia; * Trinity Church Studios, Camden New Jersey ADD
Experience Classicsonline

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 Symphony Orchestra.

The present Naxos album is an essential purchase for all Stokowski fans.

Ian Lace

see also Review by Rob Maynard


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