C0156. STOKOWSKI STEREO COLLECTION - LEOPOLD STOKOWSKI Cond. Chicago S.O., NBC S.O., American S.O., RCA Victor S.O., Symphony of the Air, London S.O.., Royal Philharmonic, New Philharmonia Orchestra & New Symphony Orchestra of London, incl. Martina Arroyo, Anna Moffo, Betty Allen, Brigitte Fassbänder, Shirley Verrett, Margaret Price, Louise Parker, Carlotta Ordassy, Doris Okerson, Doris Yarick, Robert Bloom, Erich Gruenberg, Harvey Shapiro, Arthur Granick, etc. 13-RCA 09026-68443, recorded 1954-75, Slipcase Set. Final Copy of this Original 1997 Edition! - 090266844326
"For collectors who must have everything, this box set is a great one. Stokowski, the most controversial of all conductors, finally gets his due. There are two volumes of Wagner, and of course, his legendary Bach transcriptions. The set contains the elusive recordings of the Brahms 4th and the Mahler 2nd - two of the greatest recordings of these symphonies ever. The Brahms 4th is especially startling. It is the fastest, most hard driven performance on record. Yet, the 2nd movement is played with such emotion; the strings are incredibly smooth and warm. The sonorities Stokowski achieves from the New Philharmonia are astounding. No other version of the Brahms 4th has strings that sound this smooth. The listener must be made aware, however of the numerous alterations in the score. Stokowski frequently doubles the winds with French Horns in the first movement, which makes for an incredibly exciting sound. Stokowski takes the tempo of the coda and in incredible pace and ignores the the eighth note rests at the end of the coda, adding a sense of drama and excitement completely unmatched by ANY performance on record. Brahms has never been given a reading this intense, and it works. The Mahler 2nd is another great recording. It opens with such gritty intensity, it makes the Bruno Walter version sound especially tame, even when compared to Klemperer. Given the fact that Stokowski was 93 when he made this recording it is an incredible achievement. Bridget Fassbander is great, and coda is glorious! The gem of this collection is the special disk of rehearsals and sessions. It's fascinating to hear the master at work. One can't help but notice that he never gets angry at his musicians, unlike Toscanini. A rare chance to hear a grand master at work.
Musically Leopold Stokowski was a wizard, a magician. He performed during the 'Golden Age of Conducting' and he was always at the top. In that era, we had conductors with innate abilities and emotional feeling which they could impart to an orchestra. Nowadays, we have far too many conductors who learned only how to beat time at a university or musical conservatory and who seem to approach music more like mathematicians than artists.
During his long recording career which began in the 1920s, Stokowski made recordings for RCA Victor during every decade until his death. He did not always record exclusively for RCA, but much of his greatest work was done for that label. What we have here are all the stereo recordings made for RCA Victor. Most of them were made in England since he spent most of his later years there. Overall, the sound quality is excellent. Inasmuch as the Maestro was always very concerned about sound matters, one would expect no less.
Naturally, there will be those who will quibble with some of his orchestrations, but more people, including a number of conductors today, have come to appreciate what he did to enhance the composer's intentions. After all, music in its basic form is just a series of lines and dots on a piece of paper. It takes the musician to make it come alive and grab an audience. Most of the living composers whose work he conducted had nothing but high praise for his efforts. I would rather have their assessment than that of the critics. I believe it was Sibelius who said: 'No one ever built a monument to a critic'!"
- Jerome R. Selmer
“What we have here are all of the stereo recordings that Stokowski made for RCA between 1954 and 1995. Many of them are new to CD. The presentation [of the original issue of this set] is handsome. This case comes with remarkable pictures, often differing from disc to disc. More important, each disc has its own insert commentary written by Ed Johnson whose comments are fascinating, educating, entertaining….everything you could ask for. They are about Stokowski, about the recordings, and about the music itself. Ed's notes constitute a paradigm case of what insert notes should be.
The Mahler 2nd resulted from various rehearsals and takes made in 1974 when Stokowski was also recording the Mahler 2nd. There is a lengthy story behind this recording. It is a wonder that it got finished at all. Stokowski was ill during the recording process and had to cancel several sessions. What we hear in this recording was the result of patching together various ‘takes’. It is amazing that the thing sounds as a whole! You will not hear Bernstein's Freudian/Jewish anguish in Stokowski's interpretation. Much as I like Bernstein's way with Mahler, Mahler's sound world is not confined to one way. In Stokowski's hands you can hear a symphony embracing the world, with all the tragedy and absurdity that is in it. The close of the second movement is ethereal. The sound on this transfer may be the best of the lot. The strings have a feathery quality when needed, the detail is amazing and yet it is all very warm. I can hear why Gilbert Kaplan was reduced to tears when hearing this symphony for the first time (with Stokowski conducting).
[In this issue] the sound on Music for the Royal Fireworks is even better [than in previous incarnations], in fact it's amazing how much better it sounds. There is even broader warmth, the perspective is natural with a more balanced relief of the orchestral parts. In the 1992 release when the harpsichord enters it completely dominates the picture. Here, five years later, you can now hear the other accompanying instruments.
You would hardly guess that this RCA recording [of the Pathétique] was made by a 90 year old. The bottom line is that this is one of the finest performances of this piece that I have ever heard and RCA has, once again, produced an excellent recording.
The Enescu and Liszt were recorded 13 years earlier. These pieces are just plain fun, exciting and full of the kind of color that only Stokowski could get from an orchestra. How does the sound on this differ from the Living Stereo issue? The Living Stereo issue tends to wear on my ears, however this remastering is a pleasure to listen to. Bob Bloom's oboe is a delight.
Then we come to the Coriolan Overture. Here is another winner! It is everything you listen for in a Stokowski recording. It grabs you immediately and insists that you pay attention. I love it. The CD is filled out with a 1:13 talk to the London Symphony at the recording sessions for the Coriolan Overture.
The Rimsky-Korsakov is another CD release with an odd history. It was issued several years ago in a remastering where the first 2 minutes or so were in mono and then it suddenly shifts to stereo. Stokowski must have loved Schéhérazade; he recorded it five times between 1927 and this one in 1973. [This] RCA version is faster in almost every movement and the soloist, the same for both recordings (Erich Gruenberg) is as sensual and erotic here as earlier. The whole orchestral fabric is well balanced adding to the effect. The Russian Easter Overture was recorded earlier, at the same time as the Shostakovich, etc. in Chicago. The sound is dryer, but there it is still fully Stokowskian. Frankly, nobody I know of conducts Rimsky-Korsakov better than Leopold Stokowski. Another jewel in the collection.
The Moldau is as compelling and sweeping a recording as I have ever heard. Interestingly, I read in an article by Martin Bookspan that the recording session from which these emerged was originally to be of a concerto. The soloist fell ill at the last moment, RCA already had the orchestra and venue scheduled. So, it was another of those situations where the players showed up and were told what was to be recorded. The result sounds as spontaneous as the real situation. The Bartered Bride Overture is particularly arresting. I can't imagine a more exciting, taut performance. The whole thing sounds as idiomatic as if it was a Czech orchestra. It doesn't get any better than this.
The next CD contains vocal music, sung by Anna Moffo, by Canteloube, Villa-Lôbos, and Rachmaninoff. This is one of those all-too-rare occasions where Stokowski worked with a soloist. Anna Moffo does an excellent job with these miniatures, her voice is not too operatic and in the Canteloube she really brings out an era and area which are exotic. The Rachmaninoff was a piece Stokowski recorded several times in his life, but this is the only one using a vocalist.
[The] recordings made with the Symphony of the Air (NBC Symphony Orchestra) open with Die Walküre, including the singing of the Valkuries. You have to hear the double basses in the opening of Tristan und Isolde to believe it. The solo oboe work in the piece is absolutely poignant. The harp work in the Tannhäuser excerpts, also including vocals, is beautiful. This disc is filled out with a Rienzi Overture and Magic Fire Music from Die Walküre - beautiful, just beautiful. As for the Götterdämmerung excerpts, you will never hear a performance of Siegfried's Funeral Music as powerful, dramatic as this. The transfers are just stunning.
If ever there was a fitting tribute to Leopold Stokowski, RCA have provided one. Stokowski's first recordings, made in 1917, were with RCA and his last ones for them in 1973. It is also a tribute to Jack Pfeiffer, who worked hard to realize this project and died too soon to hear it. I give this production my highest recommendation.”
- Robert Stumpf II, Classical.Net