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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Aurora's Wedding, Op. 66a (Sleeping Beauty ballet arr. Diaghilev) [38:42]
Humoresque Op. 10 No.2 (transcr. Stokowski) [2:03]
Solitude Op.73 No.6 (transcr. Stokowski) [3.37]
The Nutcracker Suite [22:20];
Stokowski Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. 1950-53, location not specified
CAMEO CLASSICS CC9022CD [66:42]

Stokowski’s orchestra in the 1950s included many of the top orchestral players in New York. Among these we find some legendary names: Robert Bloom (oboe), Juliet Baker (flute) and Leonard Rose (cello). His leader was often Oscar Shumsky or Mischa Mischakoff. This ad hoc recording orchestra also drew its players from the New York Philharmonic and NBC Symphony orchestras. The bottom line is that the standard of orchestral playing demonstrated on this and many other recordings is of the highest quality. Stokowski was also very interested in the engineering aspects of capturing his performances on tape and the results were often amazing for the time. He was very much part of the production team. All the hallmarks can be heard here - the big Stokey sound with its drenched string tone, free bowing style and a really flexible approach to phrasing. He takes liberties here and there but it’s all done with conviction and my goodness he knew how to get an exciting sound out of his orchestra.
 
The main item on this disc is the interesting arrangement from the Sleeping Beauty ballet by Diaghilev: Aurora’s Wedding. The sound quality is of an historic nature but it’s perfectly acceptable. I assume that it derives from a record judging from the odd patch of surface noise here and there. It also sounds like a “straight” transfer with no attempt to alter the characteristics or reduce background noise.
 
Stokowski was a great Tchaikovsky conductor and he makes his relatively small band sound huge and impressive here. It’s spontaneous and full of energy. Cameo has a serious competitor here and that is David Gideon’s online American company Rediscovery. They offer high quality MP3s of the same performance but with three significant advantages. First of all, it is free, secondly it derives from a tape and finally the sound has been restored and transformed. On an A/B comparison the Rediscovery version is markedly superior.
 
For those who still wish to opt for the Cameo there are the significant bonuses of Humoresque, Solitude and the Nutcracker Suite thrown in for good measure. The suite is well worth hearing. After the brisk opening Overture and March we are treated to a most unusual Sugar Plum Fairy. This fairy virtually grinds to a stop in her dance after a perfectly normal opening few bars. She sounds worse for wear to be honest. It’s both comical and bizarre. The Arabian Dance is utterly seductive with swooning vibrato laden strings. Dance of the Reed Flutes is pulled all over the place but magically so. There’s hardly a boring note to be heard. Despite some patches of distortion and surface noise this is very decent for a recording made in 1950.
 
This is a rather specialist disc that will be welcomed by Stokowski’s fans but, as I said earlier, the jewel of the collection can be sourced elsewhere and leave the wallet undamaged.
 
John Whitmore
 
Previous review: Jonathan Woolf