Wagner/Stokowski Symphonic Syntheses

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COMPOSERS: Wagner/Stokowski
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Das Rheingold – Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla; Tristan und Isolde; Parsifal; Die Walküre – excerpts

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PERFORMER: Bournemouth SO/José Serebrier
CATALOGUE NO: 8.570293

There was a time – before jet travel, downloading, DVD and high fidelity for the masses – when it was actually quite difficult to hear performances of Wagner’s music in any format. It’s to that era that Stokowski’s ‘symphonic syntheses’ of Wagner (intended to bring his compositions to a wider concert-going public) ministered, and it’s pointless listening to this CD wishing it had ‘proper’ extracts from the operas on it.

Stokowski’s method was not simply to excise the chunks of Wagner that he liked best and then leave them ‘bleeding’, but to do a little extra cooking to his own recipes. Thus, for instance, in the big, 36-minute Tristan synthesis at the heart of this programme, the Act I Prelude and a bit of the Liebestod sandwich a major helping of the Act II love duet. There is also re-touched scoring to sweeten passages Stokowski particularly relished, and voice parts are often mimicked by particular instruments.

Sacrilege, of course, to purists. But it’s a gift, however, to armchair karaoke-ists of Wagnerian persuasion – it’s fun pretending to be Parsifal, even if the groans emitting from my own particular listening point were distinctly un-Heldentenorisch. Fine performances, revivifying these pioneering pieces.

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Terry Blain