Classical Reissue Reviews

Leopold Stokowski – Conducts MOZART – Guild

Certain to be among the most sought-after Stokowski discs, this collection of Mozart performances offers some truly rare and outstanding collaborations.

Published on November 27, 2013

Leopold Stokowski – Conducts MOZART – Guild

Leopold Stokowski – MOZART: = The Marriage of Figaro Overture; Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466; Sleigh Ride from German Dances, K. 605, No. 3; Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491; Turkish March From Piano Sonata in A, K. 331 (orch. Stokowski) – Maria Isabella De Carli, p. (K. 466)/ Ezra Rachlin, p. (K. 491)/ Philadelphia Orch. (Figaro)/ The International Festival Youth Orch. (K. 466)/ Houston Sym. Orch. (K. 491)/ NBC Sym. Orch. (K. 331) – Guild GHCD 2405, 70:28 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

The producers of this exceptional collection of rare Stokowski incursions into the world of Mozart – via five different ensembles – tout this disc erroneously as having “the only surviving [recordings] of a Mozart piano concerto,” but collectors have had access to a Mozart Piano Concerto No. 21 from the New York Philharmonic with Stokowski and Myra Hess (rec. 1949) for some time.

This fact does not belie the celebrity of the occasion in St. Moritz, Switzerland (31 August 1969), when Stokowski, through the auspices of Lionel Bryer and the International Youth Foundation, performed the D Minor Piano Concerto. Milanese pianist Maria Isabella De Carli realizes a commendable solo part, with Stokowski’s applying a chastely refined yet resonant orchestral part whose collaborative affect becomes quite romantic in the course of the concerto’s progress. De Carli’s virtuoso part allows her many instances of intimately fluent and expressive filigree, the tragic demeanor of the first movement’s often assuming those menacing proportions and undercurrents we know from Don Giovanni.

An unusual emotional economy suffuses the B-flat Major Romanze movement, whose warmth and luminosity may bring a sudden start to those who associate Stokowski with only voluptuous drama. Security and serenity mark the outer portions of the movement, while a restrained passion invests the G Minor middle section, a torrid storm in paradise, deftly managed. The last movement Allegro assai begins tumultuously enough, with De Carli’s suave prowess in aggressive rocket figures and Stokowski’s vehement response. But the eventual transition to D Major elicits marvelously facile, breezy colors as emotional security triumphs over previous anxieties. The music-box cadenza De Carli proffers prior to the final pages injects a marvelous moment – quite romantic – into a truly historic meeting of musical minds.

The voluptuary Romantic in Stokowski comes to the fore in the three relatively brief orchestral additions to the disc. The Marriage of Figaro Overture from Philadelphia (12 February 1960) forms part of the ‘Historic Return” series Stokowski led with his most revered ensemble. The Sleigh Ride (German Dance) derives from an RCA LP (2 March 1949) Stokowski cut with the “His Symphony Orchestra” (members of the New York Philharmonic and pick-up players) whose girth rather explodes in a way well beyond most interpretations, a melding of Beethoven and Sousa. The Turkish March orchestration (9 February 1955) with the NBC Symphony is taken from another RCA LP (LM 2042) and provides lively kitsch. If Mozart had wanted to be converted into a Hungarian Rhapsody, this comes close.

The 1786 C Minor Piano Concerto of Mozart (24 October 1960) from Houston allows Stokowski and soloist Ezra Rachlin (1915-1995) to explore the composer’s most unremittingly tragic essay in the piano concerto genre, and Stokowski’s opening tutti clearly faces aspects of this especial abyss.  Stokowski urges the sometimes vaporous pathos of the first movement, with its fluttering and stabbing dissonances, towards some visceral, pre-ordained fate that the keyboard’s soft tissue tries to abate. The turbulent character of the work in ¾ time infects both solo and orchestra, so when the quieter episodes enter, they assume a pathos close to that of Gluck’s Orfeo, lamenting for lost love in the midst of suffering wraiths. No wonder Beethoven found this movement so compelling, a clear model for his own C Minor Concerto. Rachlin’s tempestuous cadenza confirms the ferocity of the music’s grueling passions.

Tender sensibilities mark the E-flat Major Larghetto, a rondo of “childlike simplicity” that eschews trumpets and drums, allowing the woodwinds a dark-hued aura of consolation. The utterly stark nature of the tranquility Mozart projects becomes wrenching as Rachlin and Stokowski spin out its melancholy plaint. The Allegretto, an uncanny theme and variations, asserts a martial sensibility capable of almost infinite degrees of nuance. Rachlin wastes no time in making a bold declaration of its bravura capabilities. The variant in A-flat carries some cheerful chugging in the winds. Suddenly, a sense of severe majesty prevails, and Rachlin demonstrates what his keyboard can accomplish in four-part polyphony. The brisk flowing tempo continues without any emotional dawdling, moving inevitably to the 6/8 variation that culminates and synthesizes all that came before. That soloist Rachlin and orchestral director Stokowski have been in perfect concord in this collaboration becomes monumentally obvious, and the audience explodes at the coda of some of the most audacious music Mozart ever wrote.

—Gary Lemco

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