A boomy recording, with some distortion at climaxes, in a cavernous
acoustic, cannot disguise the fact that Stokowski finds a Mozartian
grace in the first movement of the symphony. At this gentle gait
the second subject relaxes smilingly with very little actual slackening
of the pace.
this friendly prelude, the long arching melodies of the slow
movement are shaped as only Stokowski knew how. It should be
over the top, yet it is worth noting how the often extreme rallentandos
at the ends of phrases are cunningly gauged so that the music
moves on again before it has fully stopped. Thus flow is maintained
without the sensation of getting stuck at every lamp post that
can beset even less indulgent, but heavier-handed, interpreters.
As a further example of Stokowski’s mastery of mood and colour,
when the oboe returns to its theme at the end, it doesn’t seem
a repetition but rather an aftermath, as if we’ve been through
a whole gamut of Carmen-like emotion in between.
scherzo is a riot of folkloristic colour while rustic revelries
are again to the fore in the finale This often veers towards
a pace that is risky even for this hand-picked band, yet finding
space for vocal, operatic moulding of the lyrical second subject.
shall not be throwing out those performances that see this early
piece as a youthful offering at the classical shrine, giving
it a brisk, early-Beethoven purposefulness, especially those
in fine modern sound. All the same, Stokowski finds more in
this work than most of us thought existed.
“most of us” alluded to may possibly have included Bizet himself.
Whether he would have been so nonplussed by the “Arlésienne”
suites is less certain. There are those for whom Bizet, even
the relatively late Bizet of this work and “Carmen”, is to be
treated with Gallic grace and restraint. For others he was the
forerunner of the no-holds-barred verismo of Mascagni
and Leoncavallo. Not unexpectedly, Stokowski is of the latter
persuasion. The colours are strong, the emotions simple yet
violent, as befits a country tale. It is an ideal counterpart
to the cover illustration, a detail from a work by Corot in
his most pre-Cézanne vein, with sharp contrasts and a geometrical
design. It was a cunning choice. Just as Corot, it seems to
say, could leave his more usual tranquil post-Constable manner
and take a leap into the next century, so, too, could Bizet.
And Stokowski shows us how. The famous “Adagietto”, I should
add, is played with the most tender restraint, voluptuousness
only hinted at.
great Stokowski performance, then, even if “Stokowski performance”
remains the operative phrase, since Stokowski never lets you
forget that there’s an interpreter between you and the music.
does he? I followed “Children’s Corner” with the piano score
and was struck by his fidelity to the text, in phrasing, dynamics
and tempi. Curiously, I made the comparison with a “faithful”
interpreter, Vittorio Gui (Naples 1968) and was more struck
by the similarities than the differences. Gui, too, was a great
musician with a way of getting to the heart of the music he
was conducting. In spite of having a lesser orchestra, he and
Stokowski agree, above all, in finding a bright-eyed, childlike
innocence in the music. So in this case I am inclined to say
we have here, not only a great Stokowski performance, but a
great Debussy performance too. Although this recording is three
years earlier, I found it better than the Bizet, if anything.
Gate’s notes are a model of what we want from this type of release.
There’s a brief history of earlier recordings of the works –
the Debussy was the second complete recording ever – and other
Stokowski versions of them: none in the case of the Debussy.
There are reproductions of the original covers, a 1949 NY Times
cutting with photos of Stokowski and six of the principals engaged
in “his Symphony Orchestra” and other information about those
taking part – a fairly mythical line-up.
just a disc for Stokowski fans, then, but one for all those
who willingly exchange modern sound for the magic of a great
by Jonathan Woolf