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Stokowski NBC Pops
See below review for full tracklist
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
GUILD GHCD 2361 [67:31]

Experience Classicsonline

Guild has a very interesting series of re–issues of light music as a continuing project – and most fascinating it is. This disk makes a delightful complement, and companion, to that series, straddling both Guild’s Historical and Light Music series. The selection is unashamedly enjoyable, with Stokowski letting his hair down, and indulging in pleasure and, at times, downright fun. Almost every track is a winner and even though most will be unknown they almost all entertain in the best way – through delightful personality and sheer entertaining qualities.

Cooley’s Promenade starts in a most uncompromising manner, before settling down into a nice jaunty string piece. It’s the kind of thing one might expect from someone like Trevor Duncan. The Symphonic Rhumba is a real symphonic work, with a full working out of the material, and a sprightly step throughout. It’s a classier version of the kind of dance music found in 1930s and 1940s film musicals, and has a nice sting in the tail.

Guarnieri was given the first name Mozart – he had brothers named Rossine, a Portuguese misspelling of Rossini, and Verdi – but thinking it pretentious took his mother’s maiden name as his first name. These three dances are great fun – the first is a kind of relentless chatter, the second a sort of fantasia on a dance and the last, whose title translates as Savage Dance, although it dispalys gestures obviously derived from early Stravinsky, is about as savage as a Cozido, but it’s equally as tasty! Batuque will be familiar to many from Bernstein’s 1960s recording. It’s another dance, but one which transcends its origins – which are too involved to be repeated here – and makes for a fine showpiece.

Then comes a real rarity. Roy Harris’s Folk Rhythms of Today. Although the music obviously has a serious intent, it fits perfectly into this programme because of its rhythmic impulse and generally sunny demeanour, despite relying, rather too heavily, on reminiscences of the Third Symphony. The Sunset Reflections described in Robert Kelly’s piece are a strange lot, sometimes dark and dour, at others Hollywood bright. I am not convinced by it as a composition but, perhaps, when heard within the Adirondack Suite it makes more sense. Darius Milhaud told his pupil, Burt Bacharach, "Don't be afraid of writing something people can remember and whistle. Don't ever feel discomfited by a melody". Milhaud was never discomfited by a melody and his suite Saudades do Brasil is brim full of them, and good dance rhythms as well.

Then comes a most intriguing morsel. Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols is a delightful concoction, bringing together several Carols and creating a quodlibet of some distinction. However, this orchestral edition is an oddity, to say the least. The booklet notes tell us that the orchestral version is rarely heard, I’ll say it is, and this may have been its première. It’s a truncated variant of the well known choral work, and the performance sounds to be under-rehearsed with the playing lacklustre. As an orchestral piece it’s a bit of a damp squib and, perhaps, best left as little known.

Efrem Zimbalist was one of the great Russian violinists of the last century. He wrote a few pieces including a Violin Sonata, a Violin Concerto and a tone poem Daphnis and Chloe amongst other pieces. This American Rhapsody is his best known work, and makes great play on Stephen Foster’s Oh! Susanna and the folksong Turkey in the Straw. At 10 minutes it overstays its welcome but nevertheless it’s cheerful and pleasant. It is interesting to note that his son Efrem Zimbalist Jr, as well as being a well known actor, also wrote a Violin Sonata. To end, the third movement from Morton Gould’s marvellous Latin–American Symphonette – oh, for a complete recording of this piece by Stokowski, he did it so well – another dance, a Guaracha, and its cheeky insouciance is perfectly caught in this performance.

Like Beecham, Stokowski had the ability to turn base metal into gold, and now there’s no base metal here, but plenty of gold. Well, perhaps some of the works are gold-plated. This is a most enjoyable, and fascinating, collection and shows the lighter side of the great man. The sound is good, dated, of course, and obviously from transcription discs which have been used, but they have been well restored and once the ear adjusts there’s much to enjoy. The notes, by Bob Matthew-Walker are excellent.

Bob Briggs

Full tracklist
Carlton COOLEY (1898 – 1981)
Promenade from 'Eastbourne' Sketches [4:12]
Paul LAVALLE (1908 – 1997)
Symphonic Rhumba (1939) [5:20]
Camargo GUARNIERI (1907 – 1993)
Dansa brasileira (1941) [2:02]
Flôr de Tremembé [5:47]
Dansa selvagem (1941) [2:14]
Oscar Lorenzo FERNÁNDEZ (1897 – 1948)
Batuque from 'Reisado do pastoreio' (1931/1933) [3:44]
Roy HARRIS (1898 – 1979)
Folk Rhythms of Today [6:02]
Robert KELLY (1916 – 2007)
Sunset Reflections from 'Adirondack Suite' [5:16]
Darius MILHAUD (1892 – 1974)
4 pieces from Saudades do Brasil, op.67b (1920/1921):
No.2: Botafogo [4:22]
No.4: Copacabana [2:21]
No.5: Ipanema [0:50]
No.6: Gavea [1:03]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872 – 1958)
Fantasia on Christmas Carols (1912) [9:35]
Efrem ZIMBALIST (1889 – 1985)
American Rhapsody (1936 rev 1943) [10:31]
Morton GOULD (1913 – 1996)
Guaracha from 'Latin-American Symphonette' (1941) [4:04]

rec. Studio 8H, NBC Radio City Studios, New York. ADD
18 November 1941, Cosmopolitan Opera New York (Kelly)
15 November 1942 Radio City, New York, (Gould)
24 March 1942 (Cooley)
14 April 1942 (Milhaud),
6 December 1942 (Lavalle)
19 December 1943 (Harris and Vaughan Williams)
9 January 1944 (Fernández)
16 January 1944 (Zimbalist)



 


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