BEETHOVEN 7th Sym.; SCHUBERT 8th Sym.; Encores – Philadelphia Orch./Stokowski (1927) – Pristine

by | Oct 15, 2016 | Classical Reissue Reviews

1927 readings of Beethoven and Schubert achieve an ardent, fiery gloss in these remasterings.

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 93; SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in b, D. 759 “Unfinished”; Moment Musical No. 3 in f (arr. Stokowski), D. 780; Rosamunde, D. 797: Ballet Music No. 2: Two Versions – Philadelphia Orch./ Leopold Stoowski – Pristine Audio PASC 483, 74:03 [avail. in sev. formats from] ****:  

Producer and editor Mark Obert-Thorn revitalizes a select group of 1927 recordings by Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) with his Philadelphia Orchestra, at the time an ensemble whose discipline and homogeneity of execution rivaled the Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam under Mengelberg, the Boston Symphony under Koussevitzky, and the Halle Orchestra as led by Sir Hamilton Harty.

The first of Stokowski’s recorded interpretations of the Beethoven Seventh Symphony (6, 15 and 25 April 1927) projects an enthusiastic energy throughout, although occasionally the vehemence tends to exaggeration. The slow first-movement introduction enjoys a hearty sense of harmonic drama, leisurely in its traversal of three major keys of A, C, and F. The ensuing Vivace carries a restless breadth quite exhilarating. The a minor Allegretto movement rings tragically true, with fine response in the divided strings and the balanced voices from winds and brass. Stokowski does indulge in swoops in the line typical of a Romantic vestige of style.

The sudden eruption of F Major for the whirlwind Presto movement basks in the various sonorities of the Philadelphia players, particularly in the low winds and brass in the two trio episodes. The “very much less than fast” designation from Beethoven here carries an almost funereal sensibility in stark contrast to the manic outer impulse. Stokowski wants a Dionysian revel for his Allegro con brio finale, and mid-way through we once more hear Stokowski negotiate creamy portamentos, especially in his high and low strings, almost a parody of rhythmic motion. The dervish-dance gathers a momentum virtually unprecedented before Beethoven, and the sheer rush continues into the coda, where the composer builds the tension by pitting pairs of notes against each other in chromatic descent. Stokowski urges the mania with diabolic focus, easily a frothy companion to the later 1936 New York Philharmonic reading with Arturo Toscanini.

The Schubert Unfinished Symphony (28, 30 April 1927) projects directness and lyrico-dramatic tension, though its climaxes tend once more to exaggerated dynamics. The main melody of the Allegro moderato basks in a sweet serenity that the Philadelphia strings enshrine with their especial sonority. Stokowski’s tempo remains generally quick, so instilling a virtuoso cast on the performance, again indulging in swooped string phrases.  The tragic sensibility of the music retains its power and sincerity, despite the added sense of urgency in selected transitions. For the Andante con moto, the clarity of the string and woodwind line testifies to the remastering process that has illuminated the original shellacs. The French horn sonority against the strings, the clarinet and oboe lines, the flute, and the deep basses emerge effectively. When the orchestra plays tutti, we hear that idiosyncratic “organ” sonority Stokowski cultivated, as though the Philadelphia ensemble were the diapason for a Romantic’s excursion into Bach.

Producer Obert-Thorn adds a trilogy of Schubert encores, recorded April – October 1927: Stokowski’s own (syrupy) transcription of the little f minor Moment Musical for solo piano and two versions of the Ballet Music No. 2 from Rosamunde, the latter of which (2 May 1927) derives from a previously unissued 12-inch pressing, and runs a full minute longer than its official counterpart from 11 October 1927.  Setting the entire stage is a music-appreciation “Outline of Themes from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7” (30 April 1927) with Stokowski’s narration and keyboard examples realized by Stokowski, a feat having only been initiated prior by Walter Damrosch for the slow movement of the Beethoven Eroica.

—Gary Lemco

Related Reviews