ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Stokowski’s Symphonic Baroque
WORKS: Transcriptions of works
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Matthias Bamert
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9930
The National Philharmonic may have been a scratch orchestra, but it did contain London’s best players, and Leopold Stokowski may have been 94 when he made these recordings, but… Wow! – the sonority and energy that leap out of the loudspeakers at the beginning of the ‘Aurora’s Wedding’ selection from Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty knock your socks off. When you’ve recovered from that, there’s time to appreciate the sheen that Stokowski gets from the strings, the artful woodwind solos, the poise of the phrasing and the elegance of the rubato. Who needs dancers when the music itself dances like this? Special delights among the shorter pieces are a silky Clair de lune and a searingly intense Shostakovich Prelude.
Compared with the old magician, Bamert doesn’t come off at all badly: there isn’t that uniquely vibrant sound that Stokowski always produced, but the playing is strong, and the chance to hear some of these arrangements recorded for the first time is too good to miss. If you like that sort of thing, that is: the extraordinary sound of the ondes martenot in Buxtehude, or enormous forces being unleashed on Vivaldi may not be to all tastes, but most of the arrangements are more discreet, and you can’t deny Stokowski’s orchestral mastery. Martin Cotton