Stokowski – CD and Digital Premiers = WAGNER: Tannhauser: Overture and Venusberg Music; Prelude, Act III; Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Love-Death, excerpts; TCHAIKOVSKY: Andante cantabile from Symphony No. 5 in e minor, Op. 64 (abridged); Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy; PURCELL: “When I am laid in earth” from Dido and Aeneas; PROKOFIEV: The Love for Three Oranges Suite, Op. 33 – New York City Sym./ NBC Sym. Orch./ Leopold Stokowski and his Sym. Orch. – Pristine PASC 442, 65:02 [avail. in various versions from wwwpristineclassical.com] ****:
The commendable service to conductor Leopold Stokowski rendered by Pristine continues, with this latest installment from producer and recording engineer Mark Obert-Thorn, who has assembled studio inscriptions 1941-1950 that the Maestro produced for RCA. The number of post-acoustic recordings that Stokowski made – here with various New York-based ensembles – has now diminished to the point that only a select few items – such as Panufnik’s Universal Prayer – remain commercially unavailable.
The opening selections, Wagner’s Tannhauser orchestral selections (1 & 15 February 1950) present Stokowski before the New York Philharmonic, with the exception of oboist Robert Bloom. Stokowski always basked in the sonic splendor of Richard Wagner’s music, having first impressed me powerfully with his 1934 Wotan’s Farewell with Lawrence Tibbett and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Given the glowing timbre and response of the Philharmonic in the Overture and Venusberg Music, it seems criminal that CBS did not ask Dimitri Mitropoulos – who at the time served as Music Director – to record this music with the “regular” ensemble. The Pilgrims’ Chorus and ensuing seduction of the carnal world proceed with a graduated sense of pageant and into a swirling, voluptuous energy for the Bacchanale. The delicate vocal part remains uncredited, although we may assume the chorus had been prepared by John Finlay Williamson.
The same ardent fire permeates the brief excerpts, formerly unpublished, from Tristan und Isolde, which Stokowski recorded with his hand-picked New York City Symphony (2 March 1945), of which only the first and last sides survived for Obert-Thorn to restore. Henry Purcell’s lachrymose aria from Dido and Aeneas (8 August 1950) likely features Leonard Rose in the cello solo, who served as first chair with the makeshift ensemble.
From the 1947 film Carnegie Hall comes the abridged version (rec. 26 February) of the slow movement of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, lacking as it does the introductory material – a pity, given the French horn work – and proceeding to the grand theme. But as a vehicle for Martha Hunt and William Prince, it worked well enough. The piquant Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy (rec. 2 March 1949) from The Nutcracker features in this slow reading a young Walter Hendl on the celesta. Mark Obert-Thorn supplies us the etiology of the Prokofiev suite, recorded 27 November 1941. Vinyl pressings are the source of the outer movements, while a sonically inferior shellac provided “The Prince and the Princess.” Originally separate entities, they now enjoy a continuity that ensures their CD canonization, especially since both Mark Obert-Thorn and Andrew Rose have collaborated on the pitch stabilization.
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