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Leopold Stokowski – A Gala Concert 1963
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Overture - La forza del destino [7:09]
Umberto GIORDANO (1867-1948)
Un di all’ azzurro spazio (from Andrea Chenier, Act I) [4:58]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 [24:01]
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924)
Recondita armonia (from Tosca, Act I) [3:30]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Dance of the Seven Veils (from Salome) [10:03]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Il dolce suono … Ardon gli incense (Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor, Act III) [10:50]
George ENESCU (1881-1955)
Romanian Rhapsody No.1 in A, Op.11 No.1 [11:45]
Joan Sutherland (soprano)
Franco Corelli (tenor)
Susan Starr (piano)
Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. 19 January 1963, stereo broadcast by WFLN-FM from Academy of Music, Philadelphia
TESTAMENT SBT1513 [72:16]

For once the words “star-studded” are appropriate for the Gala Night held at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia on 19 January 1963. The city’s orchestra was directed by its great pre-war conductor, Leopold Stokowski, and they were joined by two vocal superstars, Joan Sutherland and Franco Corelli. Thus the programme was largely Italianate but leavened by Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 – a favourite of Stokowski’s - Richard Strauss’s Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome and Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini in which we hear from the third soloist, the American pianist Susan Starr.

The concert opens with the overture to La forza del destino, ardently shaped and revealing the orchestra’s lustre undimmed, even if the recording as such is a mite less flattering to their corporate tone. Corelli’s first appearance is for Un di all’ azzurro spazio from Andrea Chénier which he declaims with great authority, as befits a role with which he was well accustomed. His passionate vocalism generates an electricity that leads the audience to a roar of approval. His second appearance is for the even more crowd-pleasing Recondita armonia, which he dispatches with typically assertive aplomb, saving the fireworks for the end. Sutherland’s sole appearance is in the Mad Scene from Lucia – but this was the role with which she had conquered Covent Garden in 1959 and one with which she was, of course, then and now, closely identified. With the unnamed Philadelphia flautist proving himself a master of phrasing and tone, Sutherland sings with blistering immediacy and identification, creating a master class of characterisation in ten minutes.

Susan Starr is little remembered today but she had won, just a few months earlier, the silver medal at the second international Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow – the famous event won jointly by Ashkenazy and Ogdon. It’s a pity, in fact, that there isn’t a photograph of her in the booklet, as there are of the two singers and, naturally, the conductor. Having Stokowski at the helm in Rachmaninov – given his performing and recording history with the composer – is the ne plus ultra of luxury casting. Having the orchestra so versed in Rachmaninovian syntax on hand only adds to the pleasure. It’s a shame, perhaps, that the individual movements aren’t separately indexed but what one loses in tracking one can gain in linearity of listening. It’s good to hear the harp in the balance. Things are not quite totally note perfect, and Starr sometimes veers between deadpan and quite emphatic but this is an intriguing reading not short of heart and temperament and strongly suggesting how impressive a pianist she was.

Unusual and unexpected this restoration will be welcomed by all Stokowski adherents, and Robert Matthew-Walker’s booklet notes certainly don’t let the side down; they’re first class.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob McKenzie



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