Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 5 in E minor op.64 [44:51]
Final rehearsals [34:51]
International Festival Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. live, Royal Albert Hall, Proms, August 1973. ADD

Stokowski performed this symphony more often than any other work by Tchaikovsky and his recordings catalogue features at least half a dozen versions made between 1934 and here in 1973. I previously reviewed his 1942 recording on Guild and will not repeat myself here other than to observe again that his interpretations were consistently excellent over the years (try also his New Philharmonia version and reviewed here as a Phase Four Decca. Ed.), a fact all the more remarkable given that the conductor was 91 years old at the time of this live recording.

My MusicWeb International colleague Rob Barnett reviewed this CD very favourably in its first issue back in 2009. He remarks upon how the origins of the rehearsal track as an LP are betrayed by the constant hum and crackle. They are hardly distracting in comparison with the maddening interventions by persistent coughers who make no effort to muffle their percussive contributions and invariably choose the quietest and tenderest moments to erupt.

It is otherwise a typically grand, and elemental account, offering a wonderfully elegiac Andante cantabile - with cougher obbligato - and a rousing finale.

The 35 minutes of rehearsal clips are absorbing; Stokowski is gently humorous, facetious, authoritative, stern and highly complimentary by turns towards his young orchestra, frequently ironically apologetic for insisting that they either follow his lead or he will go away and direct another orchestra - or alternatively they can find another conductor. He gets what he wants; the rehearsal reveals how carefully Stokowski grades the massive sound afforded by such a large orchestra of 140 players, achieving delicate pianissimi and instructing the horns how high to hold the bells and several times castigating the oboe for playing too loudly.

A small oddity resides in the fact that on the CD the four movements and rehearsal are each given their own track, making five, yet the listings on the back cover denote only two tracks, the symphony as a whole on track one and the rehearsal.

The digital re-mastering of the Dolby A mastertape has resulted in very tolerable sound, all the more surprising given that the venue here is the notoriously difficult Albert Hall. Despite its sonic and interpretative excellence, given the coughing, the many other extraneous noises and the flaws, including a trumpet fluff at the end of the first movement and a catastrophically loud dropped tambourine in the second movement, this cannot supplant my first choices for repeated listening to this symphony, which remain Frank Shipway with the RPO (RPO label) and Mravinsky. Nonetheless, this live recording endures as testimony to Stokowski’s special affinity with Tchaikovsky’s idiom.

Ralph Moore

Previous review: Rob Barnett
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