Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Johann Sebastian BACH
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565 *
Prelude in C Sharp minor, Op. 3, No. 2 *
Richard WAGNER
The Ride of the Valkyries from Die Walkure **
The Dance of the Sylphs from the Damnation of Faust **
Alexander BORODIN
Polovtsian Dances from Price Igor ***
The Firebird - Suite Lullaby and finale **
Pictures at an Exhibition Promenade - The Old Castle ****
1812 Overture *****

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra (1972) *, London Symphony Orchestra (1966, 1967, 1969) **, Chorus of the Welsh National Opera, Royal Philharmonic Chorus and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (1969) ***, New Philharmonia Orchestra (1965) ****, and the Chorus of the Welsh National Opera, Band of the Grenadier Guards and Royal Philharmonic Chorus and Orchestra (1969) *****. (recording dates in brackets)
rec House of the Artists, Prague * and Kingsway Hall (the remainder).

DECCA 467 828-2 [64.01]
Crotchet   AmazonUK   AmazonUS  Amazon recommendations

This disc is a memento of one of the most charismatic of Western conductors. For more than 75 years Stokowski wowed audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, appeared in the "Movies" both in cartoons (Fantasias 1 and 2), as well as the conventional films, always as a conductor. He glamourized the position like no other and had a "groupie" band of fans who remained staunchly loyal to him throughout his long life.

He was in charge of the Philadelphia Orchestra from 1912 to 1938, and conducted many of the premieres of Rachmaninov's works often written specifically for the sound of the Philadelphia Orchestra and their famous Music Director. He recorded with them, the soundtrack of the first Fantasia and was instrumental in introducing many young people to the glories of classical music. Frowned on at the time and since by a proportion of the critics, he nevertheless has earned a prime place in the history of music-making in the 20th century.

One of the areas he was both famous and infamous for was the tampering he did with many of the scores he conducted. This he did in a genuine attempt to enhance some area of the piece to bring out what he considered was important for 'his' listener to appreciate. Obviously, for some, any tampering of this kind was sacrilege, and he paid the price in some areas for this. What was abundantly clear was that under Stokowski, an audience was assured of an exciting time, indeed right up to his death at the age of 95.

In order to preserve his memory, his recordings have earned to right to an almost permanent place in the catalogue, and so I can't understand Decca's strategy of deleting almost every recording, and then issuing this sampler of bits and pieces. One can only hope that someone at Universal will see the light and will reinstate these discs as soon as possible. The evidence is there - the number of pirated and private recordings on the market attest to the popularity and importance of this major artist.

The first two items were recorded live at the House of the Artists in Prague and is a record of Stokowski's debut in Czechoslovakia at the ripe young age of 90.

He was a regular performer with the London Symphony Orchestra and there are examples of his art with them, recorded at Kingsway Hall. The Ride of the Valkyries was a favourite of his and he made many transcriptions of Wagner operas and of The Ring in particular, which were known as 'Symphonic Fragments' and 'Symphonic Syntheses'. On this disc we have the Wagner item plus a very slow and lush version of The Dance of the Sylphs from Berlioz's Damnation of Faust. We also have two pieces from The Firebird, which shows his art perfectly.

Moving on to another orchestra, this time the Royal Philharmonic, they are under his spell for a lively rendition of the Polovtsian Dances. The New Philharmonia is then used for a small portion of Pictures at an Exhibition, in an orchestration made by Stokowski himself - but why not the whole piece?

Finally the Grenadier Guards join forces with the Royal Philharmonic and Welsh National Opera Choruses, plus the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in the most eccentric version of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture I have ever heard. If you want to hear Stokowski at his worst, playing around with the composer's music with utter abandon, this is the disc for you. Not Tchaikovsky, but still wonderful provided that you don't think this is what was written.

Universal, come on, re-release the other recordings - you have a duty to do this!!!

John Phillips

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: