Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Vocalise, Op. 34 No. 14 – orch. by composer (1915) [7:03]
Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 44 (1936) [39:16]
National Philharmonic Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. 28, 30 April, 1 May 1975, West Ham Central Mission, London. ADD
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802024 [46:19]

Stokowski and the Fabulous Philadelphians were a partnership made in heaven and remained so until the inevitable rift. During that halcyon period Rachmaninov came to see conductor and orchestra as his collaborators of choice. Indeed this continued undimmed when the orchestra became the long term property of Eugene Ormandy. Stokowski maintained his allegiance even while living his gypsy career from band to band. Stokowski it was who premiered the Rachmaninov Third Symphony and many other works by this composer in Philadelphia.

In 1975 - then 93 years young - Stokowski went into the studio in London with the National Phil to record the Third Symphony for Desmar. This as issued on Desmar LP DSM 1007. The NPO were a pickup orchestra fixed by that eminence gris of London orchestras Sidney Sax whose violin can presumably be heard in the second movement of the Symphony. This was reissued in 1998 by EMI Classics on CD 7243 66759 2 6. By the way the other Desmar LP involved the strings of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis (just issued by Boosey’s in a spanking new corrected urtext), Dvorák's Serenade for Strings, and an arrangement of When I am laid in earth from Purcell's Dido and Aeneas – once on EMI Classics 7243 66760 2 6.

The disc opens with a luxurious (7:03) rendition of the Vocalise, the composer's own orchestration, but full of the conductor’s tenderly attentive ministrations. These act in a beneficent way and bring out the work’s lushly romantic side. It had me thinking of the Second Symphony’s long and elaborately spun luxuriance. The sound, though now with just a suggestion of glare, is out of the analogue top-drawer. This carries over into the Third Symphony which has a leisurely unfolding power though nowhere near as measured as Svetlanov with the USSRSO in the 1970s. Stokowski’s way is hectic at 10:34 in the first movement where things seem to come close to grief in the mêlée. It is impetuous and exciting stuff. The chattering urgency of the finale is well communicated. That said I did I wonder about the strange tizzing noise around 5:34 in the LH channel. This is a possessed and thundered out finale goaded onwards; at this point more redolent than ever of The Bells. The feral exuberance is remarkable with the notes seeming to tumble one over another – one can almost see the conductor wild-eyed with white hair flying amid the brilliant glitter and thunderous attack. Would that he had recorded the Symphonic Dances at the time – he might then, on this form, have supplanted the classic Kondrashin analogue version.

The notes are by Edward Johnson and are the same as those on the 1998 EMI reissue.

Short playing time but there are compensations.

Rob Barnett

Stokowski wild-eyed with white hair flying amid the brilliant glitter and thunderous attack.