Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)
Gurrelieder (1900-1913) [107:26]
Tove – Gré Brouwenstijn (soprano); Waldtaube – Nell Rankin (mezzo); Waldemar – James McCracken (tenor); Klaus-Narr – John Lanigan (tenor); Bauer – Forbes Robinson (bass); Sprecher – Alvar Lidell (speaker)
Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night) Op.4* (1913) [27:54]
Edinburgh Royal Choral Union; London Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra.*
rec. live, 20 August 1961, Edinburgh International Festival, Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland; 3 September 1952, New York (Verklårte Nacht). ADD. mono
GUILD GHCD 2388/89 [60:14 + 75:18]
These two pieces are, in my experience, as close to conductor-proof as great music can get. Yet, much as I admire these performances I derive little pleasure from the crumbly, limited mono sound here despite Guild’s best efforts to rehabilitate it. There are too many great recordings of both works to justify recommending these unless you are a die-hard Stokowski completist. I absolutely adore the music in both, even though I admit to finding longueurs in the music for the Bauer and Klaus-Narr. You would count on Stokowski of all conductors to have its measure and so it proves.
The Verklärte Nacht is gloriously rhapsodic, played by some of the best musicians to be found amongst the New York orchestras in the early 1950s. Even so, I can think of little reason to encounter such screechy, boxy sound when you can hear Karajan in full flow with his Berliners either live from the Festival Hall in 1988 or in their 1974 studio recording.
Similarly, you may catch the virile, impassioned James McCracken considerably later but still in excellent voice and with superlative co-singers in the Ozawa Boston studio recording of Gurrelieder. You could also turn to James Levine’s Munich recording on Oehms for first-class modern sound and again, a superlative cast.
There is, however, special historical interest in encountering the under-recorded American mezzo-soprano Nell (not “Nel”, as per the listing) as a lovely Wood Dove. Similarly, British listeners, can hear the celebrated BBC announcer, news-reader and amateur baritone Alvar Lidell as an eloquent Speaker. He intones his verses animatedly in impeccable German. It is a pleasure to hear Gré Brouwenstijn in such thrilling, confident voice as Tove. The chorus is magnificent but often occluded in a mush of sound. Insofar as we can hear it, it is clear that Stokowski brings this mighty, majestic work to a rousing close.
No text, but it is available on the Guild website.
Ralph Moore

Special historical interest for Stokowski enthusiasts.