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Sonata pian e forte
TIPPETT Concerto for double string orchestra
LISZT Mephisto waltz no. 1
London Symphony Orchestra recorded Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 22 August 1961
NIELSEN Symphony no. 6 (Sinfonia semplice)
New Philharmonia Orchestra, recorded Maida Vale, London 12 September 1965
Leopold Stokowski
BBC Music BBCL 4059- 2, Mono (ADD) (72.40)
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Stokowski was an interesting conductor. As with Karajan he developed a style in which he altered, revised and arranged music to suit his own ethos. However, unlike Karajan, Stokowski was honest about it and announced that his performances were his own arrangements. Some of them are very good particularly those of Bach whereas, as a contrast, Elgar's arrangements for orchestra of Bach are simply dreadful using two harps in one transcription of a Prelude and Fugue. Quite insane.

Stokowski was more of a musician and his orchestral transcription of the famous D minor Prelude and Fugue is magnificent. The difficulty is that should we not expect what the composer wrote? We talk about Karajan's Beethoven. What about Beethoven's Beethoven? about Rattle's Mahler but what about Mahler's Mahler? This is, of course, what elevates Boult, Reiner, Leinsdorf and Bryden Thomson as conductors. They gave us what the composer wanted.

In fact if you must have a recording of Nielsen's awful Symphony no. 6, Bryden Thomson on Chandos is the best but it does not save this work. One wonders whether the symphony is semplice or for simple minds. It seems a strange way to end your symphonic career with such a loony work particularly when Symphony number 2 is a real gem (Thomson on Chandos or Wha-Chung with the Gothenberg are best) and the third, fourth and fifth are also very fine. The Sixth Symphony is embarrassingly bad. At first hearing one may be captivated by its unusualness and raw humour but it soon wears off.

The Liszt is very badly done. He is a composer who suffers more than most at the hands of conductors and performers. The reissue of Karajan's Liszt on the DG Panorama double CD was even worse. It was an effective deterrent to turn people away from this great composer. But the tragedy is that many music listeners simply do not know what appalling abuse some conductors inflict on great music.

The Gabrieli is Stokowski's own version. I think it works well and has a lot of space but, again, is this what the composer intended? Is Stokowski doing the composer and us a great disservice?

But it is not all bad news. The Tippett is very good indeed, although there are some Stokowski quirks in it. What I like about it is that it avoids that trap of sounding English and there is a ghastly trait in this country to play all string music in the style of Elgar with a pomposity that is indescribably irritating. Not so here. I enjoyed the tempi and the pathos of the slow movement which was more akin to a central European style. The interaction of the various parts of the string orchestra was cleverly realised and the detail was well proclaimed. It was a different performance and a good one and devoid of Edwardian nonsense. I still do not know whether I like the work or not. But if I were to be converted to it, this performance is the most likely to succeed.

The sound is very good. But I don't know whether to recommend it or not. It depends on your evaluation of a conductor's role.

David Wright

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