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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Rosamunde - incidental music D.797 (1823) [26:37]
Dances from Deutsche Tanze as ‘Tyrolean Dances’ - excerpts arr. Stokowski [7:27]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, op.95, From the New World (1893) [42:03]
Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra
rec. Manhattan Center, New York; December 1947 (Dvořák), June 1949 (Schubert dances) and September 1952 (Schubert Rosamunde)
CALA CACD0550 [76:07] 
Experience Classicsonline

When it came to Dvořák’s New World symphony, Leopold Stokowski was very much a man of his times. For whereas performance practice today tends to play down the score’s perceived Americanisms and to stress instead its elements characteristic of the composer’s Bohemian heritage, Stokowski did all he could to play up the former as much as he could.

Indeed, in a recorded supplement to his 1927 recording, he expatiated at length on the way that Dvořák had been inspired by, among other influences, “the wild beauty of the West and the vast lonely spaces of Arizona and New Mexico” - even though the composer, who worked in New York City and travelled no further afield than Spillville, Iowa, had not the slightest physical acquaintance with either.

Perhaps Stokowski can be excused, however, for Dvořák himself, in some vague or even downright misleading statements, had happily led his adoring American public on. Thus, when, after saying on arrival in the US that “Negro melodies... are the folk songs of America and your composers must turn to them”, he soon went on to compose a new symphony himself, it was only natural to assume that he had lived up to his own dictum - even though the words “your composers” clearly suggest that that Dvořák believed that musical nationalism remained something innate and not to be acquired simply on disembarkation at Ellis Island. Similarly, when he said later of the New World that he had “simply written original themes embodying the peculiarities of... Indian music, and, using these themes as subjects, have developed them with all the resources of modern rhythms, counterpoint, and orchestral colour”, American musical jingoes were happy to stress thereafter the mention of native music and to downplay the references to original themes and modern compositional technique.

Stokowski’s US-centric view of the New World was, nonetheless, far from a universally adopted one at the time, even in the United States itself. Toscanini, for instance, may well have been the man who tacked on a rousing chorus of The Star-Spangled Banner to Verdi’s Hymn of the Nations, but he certainly eschewed Americanisms entirely when setting down a 1953 New World that placed Dvořák’s score firmly in the European classical tradition.

Accepting Stokowski’s view as a given, then, this performance emerges as a hugely enjoyable one: Richard Gate’s useful booklet notes point out that it was, in fact, one of the conductor’s best-selling recordings, selling more than 40,000 copies for RCA. True enough, Stokowski plays, as he does so often, very much to the gallery. He stretches out the crowd-pleasing largo to 13:46, for instance, which is longer than any other version that I found on my own shelves - the runner-up is Rafael Kubelik, 1973, at 13:04; then comes Evgeni Svetlanov, 1981, 12:59; Václav Talich, 1951, 12:42; Erich Kleiber, 1929, 12:25; Witold Rowicki, 1969, 11:32; Arturo Toscanini, 1953, 10:35; and finally a clock-busting account from the much-underrated Paul Paray, 1960, 10:13, that cuts more than 3½ minutes off Stokowski’s time. There is also characteristic crowd pleasing of a more questionable, if admittedly thrilling, kind in the finale, where Stokowski not only augments the brass but even adds his own percussion - a dramatic if rather vulgar tam-tap stroke at 10:40. As far as I was aware, the tam-tam, or more properly, the chau gong, originated in East Asia - but maybe the polymath Stokowski knew of examples unearthed by archaeologists in “the vast lonely spaces of Arizona and New Mexico”?

The various Schubert pieces that complete this disc are also, in places, at least one step removed from the composer. My colleague Jonathan Woolf, in his own review of this CD, has described them as somewhat reminiscent of Lyons Corner House arrangements. Younger readers will perhaps not be familiar with the reference - although the last Corner House was closed as late as 1977 - but a Wikipedia entry describes them as art deco cafeterias that were “colourful and bustling... [and that] provided a degree of escapist relaxation.” As such, Jonathan’s comparison with Stokowski’s Schubert is not only absolutely spot on but could well, indeed, be applied to the rest of this highly enjoyable disc.

Rob Maynard

see also review by Jonathan Woolf 


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