Another of the many Naxos CDs with Grammy Award nominations – what would you expect of the world’s leading classical label? Leopold Stokowski was not just the only famous conductor who shook Mickey Mouse’s large hand, he was also the most audiophile-oriented conductor ever – ceaselessly exploring ways to achieve more enhanced sound in his recordings (going back to 1917!) and programming works full of orchestral color and strong dynamics. Tied in with these interests was that of transcribing music for symphony orchestra. He made over 200 orchestral arrangements, and this terrific CD presents several of them in spectacular performances and equally good standard CD sonics. Surely Naxos has this one on their list for future release as either SACD or DVD-A or both!
Stokowski was about the only conductor using his arrangements during his lifetime. He made a London Phase 4 recording in LP days of the Mussorgsky, but I found this new recording superior for a cleaner and more transparent sound, without the absurd instrumental spotlighting endemic to the Phase 4 multiple-mike process. Now conductors are showing more interest in the Stoky re-imaginings of works, and with the assistance of the Stokowski Society, José Serebrier and his Bournemouth musicians are making them part of their repertory. Serebrier is approaching them however with a “fresh perspective,” dropping exaggerations that may not work for today’s musical ears, rather than slavishly copying Stokowski’s own recordings.
Focusing on releases of interest to the audiophile, I have certainly auditioned my share of Pictures by now! This one sounded fresher and more intriguing than any I can recall – even Reiner’s. The Boris Godunov instrumental suite is only four minutes shorter than Pictures, and a most welcome listening experience for those who prefer opera without words. (I’m one of ’em, and I’ll never forget – since Boris is one of my few favorite operas – falling asleep at a performance and only awakening when Boris had fallen all the way to the bottom of the staircase at the end of his final death aria!) Night on Bare (or Bald) Mountain is another Stoky audiophile hit, and opens this CD with some prodigious prestidigitation of musical witches and demons. Easily recommended – especially at the price!
– John Sunier