Johann Sebastian BACH (1685 - 1750) / Leopold STOKOWSKI (1882 - 1977)
Transcriptions - Volume 2 (1929 - 1950)
Overture (Suite) No. 2 in B minor, BWV 1067 [25.48]
Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben, BWV 147: Chorale: Jesus bleibet meine Freude (Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring) [3:38]
Was mir behagt, BWV 208, "Hunt Cantata": Aria: Sheep may safely graze [5:36]
Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, Part II: Sinfonia, "Hirtenmusik" (Shepherds' Music) [8:15]
Violin Partita No. 3 in E major, BWV 1006: 1 Preludio [3:40]
Overture (Suite) No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068: 2 Air, "Air on a G String" [6:13]
Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542: 2 Fugue [6:24]
Mein Jesu! was vor Seelenweh, BWV 487 [4:39]
St John Passion, BWV 245, Part II: Aria: Es ist vollbracht! [9:11]
Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4: Chorale: Jesus Christus Gottes Sohn [4:02]
All-American Youth Orchestra Leopold Stokowski (Preludio in E), Julius Baker (flute), Leopold Stokowski Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski (Suite No.2), Leopold Stokowski Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski (Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, Sheep may safely graze), Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski (Air on a G String, Es ist vollbracht!, Fantasia and Fugue, Jesus Christus Gottes Sohn, Mein Jesu! was vor Seelenweh and Shepherds' Music)
rec. 30 April and 1 May 1929, Academy of Music, Philadelphia (Shepherds’ Music), 7 April 1934, Trinity Church Studio No. 2, Camden, New Jersey, USA (Fantasia and Fugue), 15 January 1936, Academy of Music, Philadelphia, USA (Air on a G String), 28 November 1936, Academy of Music, Philadelphia, USA (Mein Jesu! was vor Seelenweh), 5 April 1937, Academy of Music, Philadelphia, USA (Jesus Christus Gottes Sohn), 8 December 1940, Academy of Music, Philadelphia, USA (Es ist vollbracht!), 8 August 1950, Manhattan Center, New York City, USA (Jesu Joy and Sheep may safely graze), 12-14 September 1950 Manhattan Center, New York City, USA (Suite No.2) ADD
NAXOS 8.112019 [77:26]

I love the Stokowski transcriptions, and not just the Bach works he worked on, but the Mussorgsky, Debussy, Shostakovich, Rachmaninov and so many more. It is the Bach transcriptions which are perhaps the best known. This is for two reasons. First, there are more Bach transcriptions than arrangements of other composers. Second, the Stokowski version of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor is know to almost everyone, from the film Fantasia, where it is used to accompany a series of flashes of light, in a very early example of “wow, man, chill out and look at this” kind of psychedelia.

This disk contains many old favourites and one real discovery. The find is the complete recording of the 2nd Suite for flute and strings. Stokowski has been very restrained here, for his arrangement, such as it, simply inflates the string section and varies the dynamic rather more than one would have expected in the original. I particularly enjoyed Sheep may safely graze, despite some grotesque rallentandi, for it contains exquisite oboe and flute playing. The Preludio from the 3rd Violin Partita is particularly scintillating, the famous Air on the G string is far too richly scored and is totally enjoyable, whilst the Fugue, from the Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, is very well done.

This is a most welcome and timely reminder, if one were really needed, of just what a wizard Stokowski was when it came to directing his own transcriptions. The recent Serebrier CD of transcriptions (Naxos 8.557883) was very good but no-one but Stokowski had that very special magic which shines through every bar of his music-making and makes his recordings so elemental.

If I have one complaint it is that the transfers are so good that there is no surface noise from any of the discs used for this re-issue and some of the bloom at the very top of the frequency range is missing. Thus the sound is a little cramped and the recordings don’t sparkle quite as much as they should. This is always a problem when too much of the background is removed. It affects the bloom of the sound, and also, to my ears at least, the sound on the 2nd Suite becomes tiresome because it is so clear and free from anything apart from the music. These recordings need a little of the background noise because, oddly enough, those old surfaces, of 78s and early LPs, are an integral part of the sound of these sound transcriptions. It’s different if you’re making a new recording. But I still have to recommend this disk for it is essential listening. They don’t make them like Stokowski any more!

Bob Briggs