Leopold Stokowski Transcriptions = MOUSSORGSKY: A Night on Bare Mountain; Entr’acte to Act IV of Khovantschina; Symphonic Synthesis fr. Boris Gudonov; Pictures at an Exhibition; TCHAIKOVSKY: Solitude; Humoresque – Bournemouth Sym./Serebrier – Naxos

by | Jul 20, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

Leopold Stokowski Transcriptions = MOUSSORGSKY: A Night on Bare
Mountain; Entr’acte to Act IV of Khovantschina; Symphonic Synthesis
from Boris Gudonov; Pictures at an Exhibition; TCHAIKOVSKY: Solitude,
Op. 73, No. 6; Humoresque, Op. 10, No. 2; STOKOWSKI: Traditional Slavic
Christmas Music – Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra/Jose Serebrier

Naxos 8.557645  76:45****:

For those of us raised on the so-called “Stokowski Sound,” this album
from a conducting acolyte of Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977), Jose
Serebrier, revitalizes a concept the older conductor nurtured: the art
of the orchestral transcription, scores Stokowski adapted for his
Philadelphia Orchestra, 1922-1941.  Here, at the behest of the
Leopold Stokowski Society and out of his enthusiasm for Stokowski’s own
scores, Serebrier has worked with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra to
resurrect Stokowski’s treatments of Russian music, namely the
unadulterated, rough-edged passions of Modest Moussorgsky (1839-1881)
and the more placid harmonies of Peter Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), along
with the conductor’s arrangement of melodies found in
Ippolitov-Ivanov’s In a Manger, itself relying on traditional hymnody.

Recorded at the Lighthouse, Poole, UK, from September 21-23, 2004 with
engineering by Phil Rowlands, the all-transcription disc is
acoustically brilliant in the Stokowski manner without succumbing to
the temptation of mere conceptual idolatry. Serebrier has his own ideas
about tempi and dynamics, as is particularly evident on the performance
of the Boris Gudonov Symphonic Synthesis, and in the placement and
highlighting of many individual instrumental touches and nuances. The
idiosyncratic use of high strings marks the Stokowski transcriptions,
since Stokowski thought the sound more innately Russian and more prone
to show off his Philadelphia Orchestra. The shimmering sound permeates
A Night on Bare Mountain, whose original model may have been the Liszt
Totentanz. Lovers of Disney’s movie Fantasia (and RCA LM 1816) recall
how effectively energized Stokowski’s treatment is. Legend has it that
Bela Lugosi mimed Satan’s hand and arm gestures; sharp aficionados will
note the reappearance of the same images in the Black Hole sequence
from the eponymous Disney film with Maximilian Schell and Tony Perkins.

Serebrier’s realization of Boris and the selective orchestration
Stokowski made of the Pictures at an Exhibition is razor sharp, with
some mighty brass climaxes for audiophiles. The Catacombs section, with
its high string ostinati, has a new Russian-liturgical sound. We might
throw kudos to the Bournemouth’s oboe, flute and piccolo principals as
well.  Where the 1941 Tchaikovsky Humoriesque is droll, the 1936
arrangement of Again, as Before, Alone (Solitude) has the intense sweep
of Sibelius‚ Valse triste, a study in implosive power. Stokowski loved
to arrange folk and traditional melodies; besides his 1933 study on
Russian Christmas motifs, he later organized Brazilian folk tunes for a
Philadelphia tour to South America. The Bournemouth trumpets sound
smooth and polished, perhaps reminiscent of Stokowski’s treatment of
Gabrieli’s Pian’ e Forte which the conductor touted with consistent

–Gary Lemco

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