Stokowski performed but did not record a lot of Strauss, so this is of particular interest to his fans. However, I will admit to some slight disappointment in this disc, insofar as, while I might join those who think Stokowski sometimes goes a little too far in taking liberties in his additions to scores, I could wish that here he had been just a little more adventurous. As far I can tell, he could not be more conservative in his adherence to the composer’s wishes as they appear on the page and as such these performances lack somewhat in excitement.
The quality of the orchestral playing is superb; the “Stadium Symphony Orchestra” was the New York Philharmonic in summer drag and a succession of soloists cover themselves in glory, especially the percussionists in “Salome’s Dance” and the first violin throughout. They contribute to some gorgeous, mellow playing which could do with a little more fire from the podium. “Till Eulenspiegel” does not really smile and there is not much élan about the “Don Juan” compared with, say, Szell’s account with the Cleveland from the year before. Best of the three items here is the dance from “Salome” which has more of the slancio required; otherwise, while I would never call Stokowski pedestrian, at times he seems a little stilted and leisurely and in general eschews the rubato and phrasal pointing that usually distinguishes his conducting. The “duelling scene” in “Don Juan”, lacks punch and the love music is short on fantasy, although the climax culminating in the fatal thrust is splendidly atmospheric, just as the finale to Salome’s dance is really telling.
The sound remains a wonder, providing a remarkably broad and deep aural vista. The last issue before Everest’s latest re-mastering, included Thomas Canning’s brief “Fantasy on a Hymn Tune”; we revert here to a mere 50 minutes of music but at a bargain price. This is a worthy compilation for the general listener but not vintage Stokie.
Masterwork Index: Don
Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks