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CD: Crotchet

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Storm, concert overture Op 76 (1864) [10.08]
Symphony No. 5 in e minor, Op. 64 (1888) [43:51]
The Tempest – symphonic fantasia, Op 18 (1872) [14.14]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. live, 29 November 1942 (The Storm, Symphony No. 5); 7 March 1943 (The Tempest) NBC Studio 8H, New York. ADD
Announcements [4.52]
GUILD GHCD2334 [73.41]
Experience Classicsonline

Admirers of Stokowski’s Tchaikovsky 5 will know that he left behind quite a few examples of his way with it. Real collectors will probably be able to recite the rosary of recordings – the fabled acoustic second movement (only) from 1923 in Philadelphia, followed by the complete symphony a decade later. Then there were the cinematic forays – One Hundred Men and A Girl which gave us the fourth movement and the 1947 film Carnegie Hall which offered an abridgement of the slow movement. I’ve always been intrigued by the unpublished 1946 Hollywood Bowl – maybe it will appear – as well as the unpublished 1949 New York Philharmonic traversal. In the 50s there were the NDR, on CD a few times now, the Detroit from the same year, a Victor set with ‘his’ Symphony Orchestra, the 1955 SDR. In England he recorded it with the New Philharmonia in 1966, then the following year with the American Symphony. Theo van der Burg has put the International Youth Festival performance from 1973 on CD. So he had a certain, if inconsistent, track record, some being truncations. But Stokowski playing Tchaikovsky is never going to be a problem, only a blessing. The only question is; how many blessings do you need in your collection?
Recorded in Studio 8H this NBC performance is full of Stokowski’s never exaggerated Slavonic expressivity. There is freedom but it’s couched within architectural parameters, and there is assuredly a confluence of legato lyricism and dramatic, theatrical tension. The NBC’s well-established section principals are on hand to support Stokowski, who took the Slavonic end of the repertoire whilst Toscanini reserved things such as Brahms for himself. The horn, clarinet and bassoon are eloquent in the slow movement. In the finale there is renewed drama and a surge-wave of volatile dynamism.
It’s not in fact the symphony that illustrates the chiaroscuro element of the conductor’s way with Tchaikovsky so much as the 1943 recording of the Tempest. This was performed a year later than the symphony. The skirling strings and taut horns, the strong bass line, are all grist to Stoky’s mill but even so little prepares one for the stunning appearance (around 7:00) of the most succulent and curvaceous legato imaginable, all the while lapped and flickered by gorgeously wicked portamenti. Seldom did Stokowski flirt with kitsch phrasing more than here and it’s a question of taste as to how far one follows him. For Dionysians though this is the alpha and omega of such things; the musical equivalent of a vat of Belgian chocolate. Me – well, I love chocolate.
At the same concert that produced the symphony Stokowski also unveiled The Storm a relatively youthful effort that reveals its structural looseness rather too often. Stokowski returned neither to this, nor perhaps surprisingly to The Tempest so it is hugely valuable to have them here coupled with the performance of the symphony. There is also an interesting sideline in the shape of Samuel Chotzinoff’s radio introduction in which he runs some dubious thoughts regarding Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich up the flagpole of popular opinion.
Since I make no great secret of my admiration of Stokowski, nor of such important restorations as this, I can only add that the sound, given the early 1940s Studio 8H provenance, is perfectly serviceable.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Ralph Moore



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