Leopold Stokowski: Symphonic Transcriptions
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565 [9:02]
Harpsichord Concerto in F minor, BWV 1056: Arioso [6:00]
Wachet auf, Chorale Prelude, BWV 645 [3:48]
Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ: Chorale Prelude, BWV 639 [3:24]
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue, BWV 564: Adagio [4:01]
Schmelli Song Book: Mein Jesu [3:51]
Ein feste burg (A Mighty Fortress), chorale [2:46]
Cantata No 147: Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring [3:33]
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I: Prelude in B minor [3:54]
Violin Sonata No 4, BWV 1017: Siciliano [2:41]
The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book I: Fugue in C minor [2:04]
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA (1526-1594)
Adoramus te [2:33]
William BYRD (1543-1623)
Pavane and Gigue [4:35]
Jeremiah CLARKE (1674-1707)
Trumpet Prelude [2:23]
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Quintet in E, Op 13 No 5: Minuet [3:43]
Johann MATTHESON (1681-1764)
Harpsichord Suite No 5: Air [3:48]
Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Quartet in F, Op 3 No 5: Andante cantabile [2:52]
All selections arranged by Leopold Stokowski
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/José Serebrier
rec. Concert Hall, Lighthouse, Poole, April 2008
NAXOS 8.572050 [64:59]
Leopold Stokowski's once-esteemed orchestral transcriptions - through which many twentieth-century music-lovers first got to know Bach's keyboard works - faded rapidly in popularity after the conductor's death. This is partly a matter of changing tastes, with the clear lines and no-nonsense phrasing of the "historical performance" movement gradually supplanting the heavier, self-consciously moulded style previously favored. A greater obstacle, however, was the absence of the maestro himself. Stokowski, the orchestrator's distinctive ear for timbre and texture is, obviously, reflected in the arrangements themselves. But the particular personality projection of Stokowski the conductor - the alchemy with which he would draw a unique and compelling energy from his players - isn't so easily reproduced. José Serebrier, a longtime Stokowski assistant, at least has the advantage of a longstanding acquaintance with the "Stokowski sound" and style: even if he can't replicate the full Stokowski magic, he knows how these arrangements should "go".
Thus, his account of A Mighty Fortress starts from a posture of humility, tentatively becoming more affirmative until, the second time around, it breaks into a full-scaled paean of praise, much in the maestro's own manner. The piece labeled simply Arioso - actually the Largo from the F minor Harpsichord Concerto - unfolds with a sombre dignity, maintaining it as the textures open up. There's a real Stokowskian depth and intensity to the string chords of the Air taken from Johann Mattheson's C minor harpsichord suite. Both Palestrina's Adoramus te and the pavane of Byrd's Pavane and Gigue project a sustained, reverent intensity, with the piquant woodwind staccati of Byrd's gigue offering a nice contrast. Returning to Bach, the big C minor Fugue from Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier is mostly incisive, and ominous in the climaxes, but perhaps it also emulates the wrong elements of the style: it turns lumbering as it heads into the home stretch, and the final chord doesn't quite land together!
Moments like that in Stokowski's own performances could make you forget that "his" sound took in refinement as well as richness. Serebrier acknowledges this in the the Siciliano from Bach's fourth violin sonata, where he shapes the secondary parts so as to underline the music's undulating grace, and in a mobile, but light and gracious, rendering of Haydn's Andante cantabile, from the F major Quartet in Op. 3. Serebrier draws from the Boccherini Minuet a lovely, clear-toned elegance that might have surprised the older conductor.
Then again, sometimes the arrangements themselves provide the surprise. The Jeremiah Clarke selection is the piece once attributed to Henry Purcell, more familiarly known as "Trumpet Voluntary". It's easy enough to make the piece sound grand; Stokowski chooses lighter, more transparent orchestral textures, making it sound more festive, less formal.
The Bournemouth Symphony responds to Serebrier alertly and with enthusiasm, reproducing all the liquid and sensuous colors of Stokowski's brilliant palette, and the engineering offers clarity, depth, and warmth as needed. As you might surmise, I enjoyed this immensely - it's excellent value even at Naxos's new mid-priced status.
Stephen Francis Vasta
Reproducing all the liquid and sensuous colors of Stokowski's brilliant palette … excellent value.