BACH-STOKOWSKI: Transcriptions, Vol. 2 = Suite No. 2 in B Minor; Jesus bleibet meine Freude; Sheep May Safely Graze; Christmas Oratorio: Shepherds’ Music; Prelude in E Major from Partita No. 3 in E; Air on the G String & others – Naxos Historical

by | Sep 20, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

BACH-STOKOWSKI: Transcriptions, Vol. 2 = Suite No. 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067; Jesus bleibet meine Freude; Sheep May Safely Graze; Christmas Oratorio: Shepherds’ Music; Prelude in E Major from Partita No. 3 in E; Air on the G String from Overture No. 3 in D; Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, BWV 542: Fugue; Men Jesu! Was fur Seelenweh; St. John Passion: Es ist vollbracht!; Christus lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4–Chorale, Jesus Christus Gottes Sohn – Julius Baker, flute/Symphony Orchestra/ Philadelphia Orchestra/ All-American Youth Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski

Naxos Historical 8.112019, 77:27 [Not distr. in the U.S.] ****:


Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer Mark Obert-Thorn here conjures ten Bach performances by Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977), inscribed 1929 (Shepherds’ Music) to 1950 (Suite in B Minor) that effectively fix Bach in the Romantic tradition. The rare Suite No. 2 under Stokowski–recorded at Manhattan Center 12-14 September 1950)–had a brief life on RCA LP (LM 1176), but has not seen a place in the catalogue for over 45 years. The tempos prove rather leisurely, especially in the Rondeau and Sarabande–the latter’s receiving the full Stokowski treatment, given stellar presences in “His Symphony Orchestra,” like Bernard Greenhouse, Leonard Rose, Robert Bloom, and Oscar Shumsky – although the Bourree and Polonaise respond with firm resolve. Julius Baker, of course, is the soul of musical discretion and light, sweet tone. The final Badinerie flutters and sails with light gossamer wings.

Two mellow slowly realized vocal  pieces follow – the familiar Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring and Sheep May Safely Graze; then the Sinfonia from the Christmas Oratorio. Each bears the imprimatur of the “Stokowski Sound,” lush and dripping with sincerity.  The Prelude in E (20 July 1941 in Hollywood) proves a virtuoso toccata for the fine body of strings Stokowski assembled for the All-American Youth Orchestra, 1950-1941. With the Air in D from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 (15 January 1936), we enter the sacred precincts of the Philadelphia Orchestra (from 78 rpm M 401) and its immaculate sonorities. The broad mysticism Stokowski achieves–via some impressive homogeneous portato–in the Air on the G String rivals the Furtwaengler account in Berlin. The independent singing lines of the Fugue from BWV 542 (7 April 1934) intertwine with silken authority, especially in the ambient woodwinds and strings; but the entrance of deep pedal from the Philadelphia celli and basses is a veritable force of nature. Deep crimson hues mark Mein Jesu! Was fur Seelenweh, somber and devotional in each note.

The remarkable aria Es ist vollbracht from the St. John Passion (8 December 1940) seems to point to the slow movement from Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony for spiritual intensity; and given the recording’s proximity to America’s entry into WW II, it carries a valediction for an era. Despite a brief interlude of ascension and triumph, the sensibility of mourning prevails in weeping tones. That same spirit of solemn veneration–almost a devout obsessiveness–permeates the exalted chorale, “Jesus Christus Gottes Sohn” (5 April 1937) from Cantata No. 4, again attuned to Stokowski’s elegance sense of terraced dynamics that his Philadelphia Orchestra can realize like few ensembles in the history orchestral discipline.

–Gary Lemco

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