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Pyotr Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
Francesca da Rimini, Fantasia for Orchestra (after Dante), Op. 32
Hamlet Fantasy Overture
Stadium Symphony Orchestra of New York/Leopold Stokowski
rec. 1958
Reviewed as download
HIGH DEFINITION TAPE TRANSFERS HDTT10058 [42]

The HDTT catalogue features a goodly number of classic, vintage recordings which I would include in any list of “Desert Island Discs” I compiled and this would be among the first. I know not if Francesca da Rimini is first-class music – I have a sneaking suspicion that it isn’t – yet I adore its sweep, passion and grandeur, especially when it is delivered by that master showman, Leopold Stokowski and revitalised by the HDTT remastering to such exacting standards. It was always been acknowledged as being very well recorded by Everest, especially for its age and I have long played the dell’Arte label issue and been completely satisfied with it, but this HDTT remastering is stunning.

Tchaikovsky’s musical narration of Dante’s most tragic and melancholy of doomed love affairs is masterly, just as Stokowski was a masterly story-teller with an unfailing instinct for the dramatic – even if his tinkering with scores annoyed purists – so the composer and conductor make an ideal pairing. Allow me to quote again, as I did in my review of his recording of the Fifth Symphony on the Guild label back in 2009, Stokie’s typically hyperbolic declaration, “After I die, should I get to Heaven, I must thank Mr. Tchaikovsky for having given us so many wonderful melodies”.

The Hamlet fantasy is not so inspired a work but it is still mightily impressive, especially when played with the dedication and sonority brought to it here by Stokowski and his orchestra - the New York Philharmonic Orchestra “in summer drag” when recording for Everest. Their attack and homogeneity are something to hear and hear again, such that they confer a compelling quality even upon this admittedly episodic, even disjointed, work.

The notes contain an affectionate mini-biography of Stokowski and brief but useful guides to the music and its context. The cover art-work is a suitably erotic painting by the 19C Franco-Dutch Romantic painter Ary Scheffer.

Ralph Moore
 



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