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Guild Music
Fikret AMIROV (1922-1984)
Symphonic Suite on Azerbaijan Folk Tunes
[13:47]
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No.1, Op.10 [33:18]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
[17:14]
Robert KURKA (1921-1957)
Symphonic Epilogue on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar [8:07]
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Leopold Stokowski
rec. Carnegie Hall, New York, 5 March 1960; 3 March 1962 (Kurka, RVW)
GUILD GHCD 2415 [73:08]

Guild have carried the Stokowski banner high for a long time now with a series preserving on CD a wide range of historic recordings often with off-air origins. Their track record is evidenced by the following MusicWeb International reviews:-
- Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Wagner, Debussy - 1955 GHCD 2329
- Prokofiev, MacDowell, Brahms - 1941/1943 GHCD 2335
- Jean Sibelius GHCD 2341
- All Tchaikovsky - 1942/1943 GHCD 2334
- Hovhaness, Milhaud, Copland, Serebrier 1942-57 GHCD 2347
- NBC Pops, 1942-1944 GHCD 2361
- Stravinsky, Hindemith, Hartmann, Hanson, Harris, Hovhaness GHCD 2379/80
- Schoenberg 'Gurrelieder' (Songs of Gurre) GHCD 2388/89
- The Blue Danube Waltz and Music for Strings GHCD 2392
- Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky 1962 GHCD 2403
- Mozart 1949-1969 GHCD 2405
- Brahms, Wagner 1960 GHCD 2402 (unfortunately not reviewed here as yet)
 
The present album demonstrates the Stokowski's renowned flamboyance in a range of twentieth century orchestral works. He was often seen as an excessively unruly mixture by some critics and orchestral managements at the time. However, from a twenty-first century perspective his abundance of 'face' in a world where characterless perfection is the order of the day makes his music-making stand out. Strange, in these days of mountainous boxed editions, that over the last five years Decca-Universal have not issued a major box or two of his house recordings. Both EMI and Sony have done well by him with middling size boxes to celebrate his Capitol and RCA days.
 
Fikret Amirov is the most exotic of the composers represented here. This Azerbaijani composer's four movement suite shows one pole of the range produced during the days of the USSR. This is a hyper-coloured nationalistic work from the same camp as the music of Ippolitov-Ivanov, Gliere and Khachaturian, especially - and then some. One section bows deeply in the direction of Rimsky-Korsakov's coal-black brass writing in Scheherazade; itself one of the conductor's favourites. Stokowski made a commercial recording of Amirov's Azerbaijan Mugam on Everest. There are all-Amirov CDs from other conductors on Naxos (8.572666 and 8.572170) and Olympia (OCD490 and OCD578), the latter now sadly deleted.
 
His Shostakovich 1 is potent and at times furious. There are plenty of memorable moments including a particularly vivid and sphinx-like third movement and an eagle-glinting piano in the second movement. Shostakovich performances were lionised by American orchestras and Stokowski had in fact given the US premiere of the First Symphony while with the Fabulous Philadelphians. Even during the Cold War the grip and fascination of Shostakovich's output continued with the newer symphonies being picked up by Ormandy among others.
 
Stokowski's Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia is tender but and not in the least Hollywoodish or sentimental. Stokowski is pretty dry-eyed and unmawkish. This is especially noticeable at the efficient and matter-of-fact start of the score. This prepares the ground for a more yielding and flowing approach later.
 
American composer Robert Kurka died very young of leukaemia at age 36. His Symphonic Epilogue on Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is as troubled as the play. At times the music ripples with anger as well as with more subtle aspects of character consistent with the portrayed personalities of Caesar, Mark Antony, Brutus and Cassius. As for style this is more William Schuman passionate than Walter Piston cool. It's by no means as romantic as the music of Howard Hanson, from the previous generation, but it's certainly not dissonant in any off-putting sense. Think also in terms of William Alwyn lyrical (2:20; 5:31) and at times Shostakovich sardonic. It was written for and premiered by the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. The present recording came from a concert broadcast that took place five years after the composer's death. In the intervening years Kurka has, in terms of concert and recording exposure, fared weakly. The reputations of Schuman, Mennin, Menotti, Rorem and even Flagello and Rosner have more than outstripped him. He remains a third or even fourth rank figure. This Epilogue should help stir interest just as the music deserves. There is an all-Kurka orchestral disc (CDR 90000 077) from Cedille who also offer his complete opera The Good Soldier Schweik (CDR 90000 062). Albany have a suite from the Schweik music.
 
There's applause at the end of each of these works. Apart from that noticed very little audience noise - testimony to Stokowski's powers.
 
The notes are by Robert Matthew-Walker, one of the finest music writers in the business. His writing evinces a commitment to communicating with music-lovers rather than with musicologists, academics and students. He is no mere word-spinner but packs his notes with information, telling connections and commentary.
 
The early 1960s mono analogue sound is perfectly respectable: clean and honest.
 
This is another essential Guild cross-section reflective of Stokowski's virile imagination and his enterprising approach to concert programming.
 
Rob Barnett

Masterwork Index: Shostakovich symphony 1 ~~ Tallis fantasia