Stokowski – Bach Symphonic Transcriptions – Pristine Audio

by | Jun 28, 2021 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 1 comment

BACH (arr. Stokowski): Organ Transcriptions with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, 1941-1944 – NBC Symphony Orchestra/ Collegiate Chorale/ Leopold Stokowski – Pristine Audio PASC 629, 77:11 (complete content list below) [] ****:

When Leopold Stokowski made his debut concert with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on 4 November 1941, he included, as his opening gambit, his transcription of the E-flat Minor Prelude from WTC I, a work which Stokowski declares, redundantly, “an inspired inspiration,” ineffable in words. Besides its lush, romantic, arching theme, the ripe tissue has Stokowski’s penchant for orchestral slides and rubato. Stokowski’s love of the music of J.S. Bach derived from his experience at the organ, and so his desire to imitate that instrument’s sonic diapason in orchestral terms, aided in his cause by his insistence on free bowing from his violins so as to create an unbroken, pulse-free body of string sound. The most popular recipient of Stokowski’s especial treatment of organ originals remains the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor BWV 565, here in blistering performance from 12 December 1943. 

Portrait Leopold Stowkowski

Leopold Stowkowski
Carnegie Hall, 1947

Stokowski introduces his opening Bach piece for the concert of 25 November 1941, the Largo from the Klavier Concerto No. 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056. Whatever intimacy the piece ordinarily maintains disappears in the lush treatment it receives here, a kind of extended, Wagnerian grandeur that competes with the most rapturous moments in Tristan. The passing glissandos and luftpausen bask in their own luxury. Stokowski elaborates (7 April 1942) on the etiology of the Lutheran chorale Ein Feste Burg, his having made three arrangements of Bach’s own treatment. Opening in the low woodwinds and then proceeding to the strings over a pedal point, the chorale eventually rises to its arioso heights, trumpets ablaze. The so-called “Giant Fugue” on the chorale Wir Glauben all’ein Einen Gott (6 December 1942) shares the program with the rare inclusion, attacca, of Stokowski’s transcription of the middle movement from Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564. Some will recall this haunted music’s occupying – perhaps via Stokowski’s only commercial recording in Philadelphia, 1933 – a chilling moment in the horror classic The Black Cat (1934) with those magnificent icons, Karloff and Lugosi. Here, the NBC woodwinds make a spectacularly intimate impression, with their ensemble in concert with the sliding and swelling string line.

Portait Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach

Bach’s aria from the St. John Passion, BWV 245 “Es ist vollbracht” (“It is finished”), signifies the fulfillment of Jesus’ errand on earth, to provide comfort for suffering human souls. Music of extraordinary expressiveness emanates from the NBC strings, which Artur Rodzinski had refined in 1937. In two sections, the dire and melancholy first half cedes to a triumphant brass fanfare, which then yields to the opening mood of somber reflection. Stokowski’s performance from 28 March 1943 my well reflect the soul of the world at the time. The same somber affect paints Stokowski’s treatment of Christ lag in Totesbanden, BWV 718, the Easter cantata that celebrates Jesus’ triumph over death, here performed 12 December 1943. The mighty Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 582 closes the program of Stokowski transcriptions proper, this reading from 27 February 1944. Conceived quite literally in the mode of a Gothic cathedral, the music relies on a persistent ostinato figure that Brahms would imitate structurally in the finale of his Fourth Symphony. The intertwining of the various lines in the fugue finds variety in Stokowski’s assigning diverse wind and brass colors to mount above the cantus firmus in what is essentially a double fugue or permutation fugue, in which no combination of voices actually appears twice. In Stokowski’s massive realization, the music becomes a foundation for the power of humanity.

Andrew Rose, in collaboration with Edward Johnson, chooses to close the program with a non-transcription piece, the closing chorus from the St. Matthew Passion, in a performance from 31 March 1942. Both Stokowski and his older colleague Willem Mengelberg dearly loved this music, and neither could be “accused” of stylistic accuracy by contemporary standards. Minor and dissonant chords invoke the suffering and sacrifice of the music’s protagonist, with sudden onrushes of deep response in the brethren of humanity. The agonized progression into the major mode embodies the “hard-won resolution” to Mankind’s redemption. Film directors Pasolini and Scorsese have long utilized the power of this music to raise even the dregs of humanity beyond their ken to divine heights.

–Gary Lemco

BACH (arr. Stokowski): Organ Transcriptions with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, 1941-1944 =
Toccata and Fugue in D Minor;
Prelude in E-flat Minor from WTC, I;
Arioso from Klavier Concerto No. 5 in F Minor;
Prelude on Ein Feste Burg; Wir Glauben all’an Einen Gott;
Adagio from Prelude, Adagio and Fugue;
Es ist Vollbracht from St. John Passion;
Christ lag in Todesbanden; Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor
Final Chorus from St. Matthew Passion

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Bach by Stokowski on Pristine, Album Cover

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