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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 (1883) [35:27]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op.95 From the New World (1893) [39:02]
Outline of themes from Symphony No. 9 [4:03]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. October 1927 (Dvořák) and September 1928, Academy of Music, Philadelphia

The first Brahms symphonic movement to be recorded was the Poco allegretto of the Third Symphony. Cut to fit one side of an acoustically recorded 78, it was recorded in 1921 by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Leopold Stokowski – the combination that was soon, under electrical conditions, to record the first cycle of the symphonies.

After recording the First Symphony the Victor company turned to No.3 in September 1928. Its reputation as the most difficult of the symphonies to interpret is long established and Stokowski’s individualism and approach add another gloss to the reading. The opening is taken sturdily though subject to almost immediate displacements and fluctuation, a consistent feature of this malleable and fluid reading. The performance is undoubtedly at its apogee in the slow movement and the scherzo, two movements where both the luscious lyricism and the incisive rhythm generated can be savoured to the fullest. The Philadelphia plays gloriously, appreciation only marginally diminished by the sonics. In the finale, as producer Mark Obert-Thorn notes, Stokowski seems somewhat out of sorts though as a counter-balance this rather unenergized approach to the movement’s opening paragraphs fits his approach generally.

He had recorded Dvořák’s New World Symphony in 1925 in an electric recording predicated on acoustic recording orchestration and reduced personnel but returned to it almost immediately in this October 1927 recording. In all he left six studio recordings of the symphony and there are good reasons for acclaiming this one the very best. With alluring portamenti and an intensely dramatic focus, it is consistently riveting in its effect and if the 1934 recording has a more prominently recorded percussion that in no way serves to diminish the overall drama of this 1927 reading. It’s prefaced by the single-sided four-minute ‘Outlines of Themes’ in which Stokowski discusses the work with piano illustrations played by Artur Rodzinski. In his Polish-inflected Marylebone accent he refers to the usual Indian and ‘Negro Jazz’ influences.

The transfers have combated the inherent volume problems inherent in the Brahms recording and have preserved a pleasing amount of surface to allow a wide and unconstructed range of sound. Stokowski adherents unfamiliar with these symphonic statements – are there any? – will welcome the advances in restoration to be heard here.

Jonathan Woolf

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