Stokowski: Acoustic - Volume 3
rec. 1917-1924, Camden Church Studio (Victor Building no 22), *Victor Office Building no 2, Eighteenth Floor Auditorium, Camden, NJ, USA
Sergei Rachmaninov (piano)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski

Pristine Audio reminds me of a plate-spinner on the variety stage. It has a large number of plates spinning at the moment, with multi-volume series devoted to Beecham, Stokowski and Monteux just three that have come my way in the past few weeks. The third volume of their series devoted to Stokowski’s acoustic recordings (see reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2) has a major work, and then a raft of lighter material, several of which pieces will be of considerable interest to Stokowski collectors as they have never before been issued.

The major work is Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with the composer as soloist. This 1924 recording shouldn’t be confused with the later electric remake. The strange history of its missing first movement – never issued at the time, thus forcing purchasers to buy a torso of the work – can be explored elsewhere, though suffice to say it first reappeared commercially in RCA Red Seal’s Rachmaninov edition of his complete recordings. It’s known that he played a Steinway Model B here, which was raised on a platform to allow the horn better to pick up his sound – quite a common practice at the time – and the results were exceptional. Given that Rachmaninov never approved the first movement for release, listeners would have had to start with the slow movement but for us no such impediment exists. It is one of those little ironies of recording history that Victor was recording a pretty complete complement of orchestral players back in 1917 but in succeeding years they actually cut back, so that by the end of the acoustic era the Philadelphia often had around 38 or 40 players in the studio. Any bass reinforcements in this Rachmaninov recording have been utilised quite subtly. The metrical freedoms taken by the soloist-composer are a touch freer than in his remake, making this recording that much more uplifting and combustible. It is, in any case, a memorable achievement and it has been very well transferred here.

The remainder of the programme is graced by a succession of single-sided sweetmeats. The quartet of Bizet gives the brass and winds a workout in particular – the March of the Smugglers is notably well played – and whilst this is by no means the first recording of Boccherini’s Minuet, it is assuredly one of the most suavely played. Ippolitov-Ivanov’s Procession of the Sardar from the Caucasian Sketches Suite No.1 offers some exotic fair and Stokowski’s arrangement (and the orchestra’s performance of Chopin’s Prelude in E minor) is persuasive: other Stoky Chopin arrangements were not always so tasteful. The Gluck is, alas, too bass heavy and lugubrious but the 1919 Chabrier España Rhapsody makes up for it. The last three pieces have never before been released. Like everything else, the sound is excellent for the 1917-24 time period. We hear the second part of the Scherzo from Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, and part one (only) of Tannhauser’s Festmarsch, which duly stops abruptly. But the gem here is the piece by the American composer Edgar Stillman Kelley whose The Red Queen’s Banquet, from his Alice in Wonderland suite, offers some busy material. In fine sound, it brings Kelley to the attention of contemporary listeners and one wonders what else is out there by him.

Full documentation can be found on Pristine’s website, as there isn’t much room in the disc for much beyond a brief Producer’s Note and the running order.

Jonathan Woolf
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 [30:38]
rec. January 3 and December 22, 1924
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)
Carmen – Prelude [2:13]
rec. May 8, 1919
Carmen - Changing of the Guard transc. Stokowski [3:35]
rec. April 30, 1923
Carmen - March of the Smugglers transc. Stokowski [3:32]
rec. April 30, 1923
L'Arlésienne - Spanish Dance [1:40]
rec. January 28, 1922
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 orch. Karl Müller-Berghaus [3:59]
rec. May 20, 1920
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Quintet in E, Op. 11, No. 5 - Minuet transc. Stokowski [2:36]
rec. January 28, 1921
Mikhail IPPOLITOV-IVANOV (1859-1935)
Caucasian Sketches Suite No. 1 - Procession of the Sardar [3:20]
rec. April 29, 1922
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Prelude no 4 in E minor, Op. 28, No. 4 transc. Stokowski [2:15]
rec. November 6, 1922
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night's Dream - Scherzo [4:30]
rec. November 8, 1917*
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice - Dance of the Blessed Spirits [4:43]
rec. November 8, 1917*
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
España Rhapsody [4:28]
rec. May 9, 1919
Edgar Stillman KELLEY (1857-1944)
Alice in Wonderland - Suite: The Red Queen's Banquet [4:36]
rec. December 31, 1924
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tannhäuser - Act II: Festmarsch (Entrance of the Guests) transc. Stokowski [3:08]
rec. April 30, 1923
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 - Scherzo - Part 2 [4:27]
rec. December 4, 1917*