Brahms, Dawson, Prokofiev,Swanson
ALBUM TITLE: Stokowski
WORKS: Brahms: Serenade No. 1; Dawson: Negro Folk Symphony; Prokofiev: Quintet, Op. 39; Overture on Hebrew Themes; Swanson: Night Music
PERFORMER: American SO, Symphony of the Air/Leopold Stokowski; New York Ensemble of the Philharmonic Scholarship Winners/Dimitri Mitropoulos
CATALOGUE NO: 477 6502
This oddly programmed release could be labelled ‘the complete American Decca recordings of Leopold Stokowski and Dimitri Mitropoulos’‚ but its significance transcends such pedantry, since in it both conductors appear as advocates for worthy musicians whose importance would otherwise be less recognised. Mitropoulos leads the New York Philharmonic Society’s scholarship winners in chamber works by Prokofiev and the African-American composer Howard Swanson (1907-78); although his generosity in promoting such a project was characteristic, the results are less than ideal. The intonation these young players achieved in 1950 does not invariably meet current standards, and it seems odd to hear chamber music conducted; Mitropoulos inspires symphonic sweep rather than vivacious wit in the circus-like atmosphere of Prokofiev’s Quintet, and the Overture on Hebrew Themes becomes more frenetic than folkish.
These Stokowski recordings, by contrast, make a lasting, positive impression. Stokowski led the premiere of William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony in 1934, and this 1963 recording of the revised version memorably realises the atmospheric interest and dramatic substance of this epochal American symphony. In the Brahms Serenade, Stokowski coordinates precision, character (nicely rasping horns in the fifth movement), and breadth
to achieve a loving performance
of genuine grandeur and poise.