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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op.68 (1876) [40:51]
Outline of themes from the Symphony [3:55]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Invitation to the Dance (1819; arr. Berlioz, 1841 and Stokowski) [8:26]
Johann STRAUSS II (1825-1899)
On the Beautiful Blue Danube, Op. 314 (1867) [4:20]
Tales from the Vienna Woods Op. 325 (1868) [4:33]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (1847, orch. Karl Müller-Berghaus) [7:59]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. 1926-1927, Academy of Music, Philadelphia except Outline of Themes, rec. Victor Studios, Camden, NJ

As is well-known Stokowski recorded the first set of the Brahms symphonies on disc, a feat that occupied the years 1927-33. And as Mark Obert-Thorn suggests in his Producer’s Note it was the First Symphony that remained something of a talisman – the symphony that he conducted at his debut with the LSO in 1912, and with the Philadelphia later that year. He recorded it five times all told.

This first electrical recording of a Brahms Symphony offered a new sonic marker after the late acoustics from Oscar Fried and Felix Weingartner. Recorded between 25-27 April 1927 in Philadelphia’s Academy of Music it offers a potent index of Stokowski’s mastery in Brahms’s symphonic syntax and exhibits the orchestra at something like its pinnacle, playing with the greatest richness and tonal breadth in all departments. The internal balancing is excellent, those deep bass extensions marvelously rounded and potent, the expressive portamenti of the slow movement in particular serving their deeper purpose, and the wind solos superlative. The finale’s pizzicati are together, the Chorale theme strongly voiced, the portamenti here especially vivid, indeed sumptuous. In every respect this is richly rewarding aural and interpretative experience. In later years he may have relaxed the tempo for the Andante sostenuto – try the Hollywood Bowl Symphony recording of 1945 for example - but hardly to the demerit of this first recording, which is conceived throughout beautifully.

The performance is prefaced by Stokowski’s spoken introduction to the work, lasting four minutes, in which he played selected themes.

The Strauss brace and Weber appeared in Obert-Thorn’s transfers on a Philadelphia CD premieres 4-CD set on Music and Arts (see review): I’d add to that. the harp is well balanced in the Weber whilst the Strauss pieces were the first recordings to be made in the Academy of Music. They were recorded about a year before the Weber and sound just a little less ‘present’. Once again succulence is the name of the day, notably in terms of the strings. The full version of Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No.2 in Karl Müller-Berghaus’ orchestration.

The remainder of the symphonies are due from the same source, so admirers of the conductor had better be prepared to dig into their pockets to acquire a vibrant and historically important cycle.

Jonathan Woolf



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