Now that Guild has continued the work of Cala in releasing highly interesting Stokowski recordings, new permutations of enjoying the Sorcerer’s legacy can be experienced. One of the most fruitful is broadcast performances, and another is rescuing languishing LPs. Still another is in disinterring commercially recorded older material that doesn’t easily fit elsewhere. To a very large extent this disc manages to do all three.
First, to matters discographical. This all-Mozart disc concentrates on two Piano Concerto performances, one live and one made for non-commercial release on LP. K491 is played live by Ezra Rachlin in October 1960 in Houston, whilst K466 is played by Maria Isabella de Carli in the ballroom of the Hotel Reine Victoria in St. Moritz. I don’t believe the latter has been transferred to CD, but stand to be corrected. Rachlin, not to be confused with the slightly older Russian conductor Nathan Rakhlin, was an interesting personality, a student of Lhevinne, Godowsky and Hoffmann and subsequently a conducting student of Reiner at Curtis. As Robert Matthew-Walker’s notes relate, Rachlin later became chief conductor of the Austin and Fort Worth Symphony Orchestras, later on as well – at Stokowski’s invitation – guest conductor of the Houston Symphony. His performance of the C minor concerto is both a reminder of his earlier prowess as a soloist and also a souvenir of Stokowski’s conductorship of the Houston orchestra (1955-61), a band with big bucks that managed to snare both him and John Barbirolli. Rachlin’s fluent pianism is in evidence and the orchestra’s wind principals have a lavish say in the slow movement. On the whole Stokowski preserves a big band approach to string weight that was at the time becoming unfashionable. That’s certainly the case with the Marriage of Figaro overture in Philadelphia in February 1960 which is super-sized to the last degree – super-sized and in stereo too.
De Carli studied in Milan with Tommaso Alati and Giuseppe Piccioli, later taking advanced study with Carlo Zecchi and Ferrucio Vignanelli. Also a harpsichordist, she has continued to enjoy a fine career as performer and teacher. She joined Stokowski and the International Festival Youth Orchestra in August 1969, Stokowski being fanatical about encouraging youth and youth orchestras. Whilst the booklet notes nowhere mention the specifics, it was released on AVE30696. The notes say that it’s very rare but whilst this must relate to the relatively small number of copies pressed, it can’t be magically rare as even I have a copy. Incidentally the LP sleeve-notes tell us that Walter Susskind and Zdenĕk Lukáš also conducted the orchestra. The LP contains this Mozart performance and also Stokowski conducting his symphonic transcription of the Passacaglia and Fugue; Blyth Major, who conceived the idea of such an international orchestra, is also featured on the LP conducting Eric Ball’s Festival Prelude
. This is also recorded in stereo and reveals de Carli as a discreet and sometimes shy Mozartian. It sounds to me that the bass frequencies have been boosted in this restoration – the ballroom recording was quite shallow – and if so it is slightly too much for my own tastes but may possibly reflect the reality of the original sonority.
The other little pieces include Sleigh Ride – that is, the German Dance No.3, K605 – recorded in New York in a Big Apple echo. The Turkish March is Stoky’s orchestration of Rondo alla Turca
, recorded by RCA in 1955. These two have both been issued on Cala and on Theo van der Burg’s private CD label. The Figaro overture has been released on CD by van der Burg, and by the Japanese Stokowski Society on LP. Incidentally, if you’re still with me, a DVD of the 1969 Youth event is available on VAI DVD4408. Shot in black and white it captures Stokowski conducting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, adding a Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet
performance with the Orchestra della Radiotelevisione della Svizzera Italiana. It’s a must for fans of Stoky. Maybe the de Carli performance of the Mozart concerto, played live with the Seventh - this recorded performance was recorded the following day - was also filmed?
I’m sure this will be an interesting release for the two Mozart Concertos which are rare items in the conductor’s discography. Even so they are not quite as rare as Matthew-Walker suggests in his good though occasionally speculative notes: these certainly aren’t the only Stokowski-directed Mozart concerto performances to survive. Check out Stokowski and Myra Hess in Nos. 14 and 21, on Wing, M&A and van der Burg. Still, here we have five orchestras at Stokowski’s command in a pleasing, if at times interpretatively uneven programme.
Masterwork Index: Piano concerto 20
~~ Piano concerto 24