Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Symphony No. 7 in A Major Op. 92 (1812) [37:42]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, BWV 582 (transcr. Stokowski) [13:48]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night's Dream - incidental music; Scherzo Op. 61 (1843) [4:23]
Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Sicilienne from Armide (arr. Stokowski) [13:48]
Paul BEN-HAIM (1897-1984)
From Israel - suite for orchestra (1951) [18:18]
Symphony of the Air (Beethoven, Ben-Haim)
International Festival Youth Orchestra (Bach)
All-American Youth Orchestra (Mendelssohn)
Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra (Gluck)
rec. 1958, Carnegie Hall (Beethoven): 1969, The Ballroom, Hotel Reine Victoria, St Moritz (Bach): 1941, Hollywood CA (Mendelssohn): 1957, Stage 7, Samuel Goldwyn Studios, Hollywood (Gluck); 1959, Manhattan Center, NYC (Ben-Haim)
CALA CACD0551 [77:16]

This is the last of the Cala-Stokowski discs. It was a series motored by the Leopold Stokowski Society, which has now disbanded, but generated a rich body of reissues. This then is a swansong and envoi rolled into one and fortunately, though expectedly, retains the high standards set and maintained over many years, ensuring ‘first time on CD’ status for this parting shot.

The most substantial recording is the 1958 Beethoven Seventh, recorded in Carnegie Hall with the Symphony of the Air (ex-NBC). A connoisseur of the Stoky discography would note that he first recorded the work in Philadelphia in 1927, and that various other mostly live inscriptions exist - including a BBC SO from 1963, a 1967 Hungarian State, a Boston from the following year, and the studio New Philharmonia from 1973. He’d first actually performed the symphony back in 1910 and his usual tendency was to engage in Scherzo snipping, but otherwise proved a rectitudinous interpreter. Some may cavil at the dynamics cultivated in the second movement - the scrupulous might call them affected to a degree - but tempo-wise things are laudable, and the rhythmic bases of the music making are similarly so. As usual there is a fine cultivation of deep bass sonorities.

It’s especially good to have Ben-Haim’s From Israel suite on board the raft of available plunder. This is a bustly, bright and ebullient opus, long on evocative colour and bewitching sound-world. It was therefore a gift for Stokowski who revels in it. He’s solicitous too, to the gentle lullaby-gauzy moments embodied in the second movement, the Song of Songs. And he’s in something like his element evoking the Yemenite dance melody of the central movement as well. The gentle flute’s shimmer in the Siesta movement is as plausible as the vibrant and exciting Celebration that ends this engaging piece.

Of course there must be Bach. How could there not be? This performance is unusual given the orchestra involved. The International Festival Youth Orchestra digs into the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor BWV 582 in Stokowski’s famous transcription, and does so with considerable authority and massive commitment. There really was no orchestra he couldn’t make sound inimitably Stokowski-like. There is another rarity here, in the shape of the Mendelssohn, a ‘binaural’ recording from 1941. Two turntables were in use in his American Youth Orchestra sessions of 1940-41 and it’s become possible to ‘binauralise’ them now. It’s rare to hear him in Mendelssohn in any case, and fascinating to hear this ingenious and powerful bit of recording technology, brief though it is. Finally he and ‘his symphony orchestra’ - it’s always a danger to capitalise the personal pronoun and turn Stokowski into Christ - give us a succulent bit of Gluck in his own arrangement.

This 35 CD series has ended on an extended and expected plateau. These vital, living inscriptions belong in the collection of all those smitten by the Stokowski sound.

Jonathan Woolf