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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 2 in D, Op.73 (1877) [41:20]
Symphony No. 4 in E, Op.98 (1885) [38:33]
Philadelphia Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski
rec. April 1929, Academy of Music, Philadelphia (No.2) and March-April 1933, Camden, NJ (No.4)

Pristine has now concluded its transfers of Stokowski’s pre-War Philadelphia Brahms symphonic cycle. The First Symphony is on PACO 500, the Third on PACO 540 and the disc under review contains the Second and Fourth symphonies.

The Second was set down over two days in April 1929 but as producer Mark Obert-Thorn relates Stokowski remade one side nearly a year later managing in the process to omit twelve bars of music. That remade side has not been included here, though you can hear it on Pristine’s website and can download it. The original recording has always proved problematic to some Stokowski admirers. Yes, the luscious free bowing is often ravishing, slides lavishly and lovingly employed in the slow movement in particular, and Marcel Tabuteau is his lordly self, a tonalist and phrase-maker of the most august kind, and those deep-hewn basses make their accustomed mark. But there is something a little sentimentalised about the reading of the slow movement, and in the scherzo a feeling that things are being taken to excess. As a direct consequence of these interpretative instabilities the finale is not the commanding and culminatory edifice it might, or should be. The earlier movements have destabilized the architecture and feeling of the work.

The Fourth Symphony of Stokowski’s I love best is the last recording he made in 1974. His Brahms tempi tended to speed up as he grew older and the intensity he generated in the works similarly increased. The 1933 Philadelphia reading has had some artificial reverberation added to the dead-ish acoustic of Church Studio No.1 in Camden. The 1974 also demonstrated Stokowski’s metrical flux in the work, as does this one, but in a way that tends to sweep objections aside. This shellac version is a little manicured in places and there is certainly a lack of the usual Philly corporate heft, due to the reduced numbers of players used, in the unsympathetic acoustic.

There is, however, nothing unsympathetic about the restorations, so if your aim is to acquire this symphonic cycle, you can be assured of top-class transfers.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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