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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Leopold Stokowski: CD and Digital Premieres
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhäuser: Overture and Venusberg Music (1845) [23:21]; Prelude to Act 3 (1845) [9:09]
Tristan and Isolde: Prelude to Act 1 (beginning) [3:55] and Liebestod (conclusion) (1865) [3:31]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Dido and Aeneas: When I Am Laid in Earth, Z626 (1689) arr. Stokowski [5:04] ¹
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64 – 2nd movement (abridged) (1888) [8:58]
The Nutcracker - Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Op.71a (1892) [2:19]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
The Love for Three Oranges, Op.33 (1919): Infernal Scene [2:55]; The Prince and the Princess [4:15]; March [1:35] ²
His Symphony Orchestra
New York City Symphony Orchestra (Purcell)
NBC Symphony Orchestra (Prokofiev)
rec. 1941-1950, New York City

As well as their series devoted to some of Stokowski’s rarest recordings – the early tranche of acoustics recorded in Camden, New Jersey – Pristine Audio has released a disc devoted to rare items from 1941-50 in what are, in the somewhat clunky nomenclature, CD and Digital premières. This single disc should be seen in the context of Music & Arts’ box of All-American Youth Orchestra recordings, a review of which will soon appear, which hoovers up a great slice of hard-to-find Stokowski material.

The majority of the pieces are played by the pick-up band known as Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra which Mark Obert-Thorn explains in his notes contained more New York Philharmonic players than NBC ones. Indeed the Tannhäuser items are exclusively NYP personnel with the exception of the great oboist Robert Bloom.

The music is divided into Wagner-Tchaikovsky-and-Prokofiev with the addition of Stokowski’s arrangement of Purcell. There’s a lot of emotive phrasing in the Tannhäuser Overture and Venusberg Music, which is by far the longest music in the disc. The percussion and winds are forward in the balance. There’s an uncredited women’s chorus to be heard too. Stokowski’s Wagner was invariably committed, and these examples are no different, not least the powerful charge of his Prelude to Act Three. He was only to record the Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan late in his life, in 1973. This 1945 example could have been the first such, but it remained unpublished and all that remains is a tantalising torso, with the first four minutes of the Prelude and the last three-and-a-half of the Liebestod. It’s a shame more is not intact as it’s a fiery reading.

The cut slow movement from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.5 is a souvenir of Stokowski’s appearance in the film ‘Carnegie Hall’, and not a weird reversion to the abridgements of acoustic days. It saw release on a Victor 78. The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is a winsome addition. The March from Prokofiev’s The Love for Three Oranges has appeared on CD before but not conjoined with the two other movements recorded in November 1941. The Purcell arrangement can be profitably contrasted with that made by the Frenchman Lucien Cailliet, who made numerous arrangements for Stokowski in Philadelphia days. You can find that on Pristine PASC 444. Stokowski’s arrangement is significantly tauter and is played with a great weight of string tone, with a role for the cello principal – thought to be Leonard Rose.

The transfers here are extremely successful and the ‘mopping up’ repertoire operation will prove very attractive to Stokowski admirers.

Jonathan Woolf



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