Stokowski = KLEMPERER: Merry Waltz; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; RAVEL: Rapsodie espagnole; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor; NOVACEK: Perpetuum mobile – London Symphony Orchestra/ Leopold Stokowski – BBC LegendsBBC

by | May 7, 2007 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Stokowski = KLEMPERER: Merry Waltz; VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis; RAVEL: Rapsodie espagnole; BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98; NOVACEK: Perpetuum mobile, Op. 5, No. 4 – London Symphony Orchestra/ Leopold Stokowski

BBC Legends BBCL 4205-2 78:22 (Distrib. Koch) ****:

Leopold Stokowski’s appearance before the Royal Albert Hall 14 May 1974 was his last in England; he would perform only once more, at the Venice Festival in 1975. In his final three years, Stokowski devoted himself to work in the recording studio, rather than suffer the indignities increasing frailty imposed on his ability to tour for concert life.

Opening this concert is a brief excerpt from Otto Klemperer’s opera Das Ziel, the Merry Waltz, which the composer himself inscribed for EMI. Lilting and graceful, the waltz evokes the world of Lehar and the Strauss family without guile or mannerism. Stokowski always championed the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia, first leading it in Philadelphia in 1926. With the Royal Philharmonic, the modal, sensuous piece found Stokowski making his last inscription of it in 1975. This rendition is extremely broad and slow, achieving a serene balance of antiphonal voices that arises out of a piece of variegated cloth. Typical of Stokowski, he had manipulated the orchestra’s seating arrangement to throw timbres and sonorous weights into high relief. When we hear Ravel’s shimmering Rapsodie espagnole immediately pursuant to Vaughan Williams, we are apt to forget how contemporary they are in fact. Suave, coloristic, self-indulgent, the Rapsodie allows the violin section, harp, and battery to bask in their own rapturous glow, the attempt, clearly, not to leave a dry seat in the house. The Malaguena alone drips with pulsating life, a panorama of color and rhythm, intimations of heated, breathless exchanges. The Feria literally bursts from the seams, a veritable frenzy of Iberian rapture.

Brahms was long a Stokowski specialty, his having led the Philadelphia Orchestra in a recorded cycle 1927-1933. He led the D Major Symphony of Brahms with the National Philharmonic at age 95 for Sony Records. This Brahms Fourth proceeds rather briskly, albeit without loss of natural colors in the winds, low strings, brass, and tympani. As the momentum increases, we become uncomfortably aware that our normal proportions for this movement suffer emotional assaults, until Stokowski attains a tempo feroce of rare power, enough to warrant a palpable “Bravo!” from the audience.

The Phrygian Andante moderato refuses to remove its tragic mask, its autumnally passionate colors rather beholden to Shakespeare’s “Now is the yellow leaf” as the symbol of our inevitable decline. Not about to go gentle into that good night, Stokowski makes the Scherzo bark and fume, a last stand fro Brahms to emote without enervating self-scrutiny. The passacaglia moves a mile-a-minute without sacrificing the individual pearls for the tempestuous necklace. Tympani and trumpets threaten to break loose from the rest of the ensemble, the obstinate motif having become a dance of death. Spectacular music-making, uncompromising Brahms!

The little, waspish Perpetuum mobile of Novacek (21 September 1964) plays as an etude by a ensemble led by a still virile King Lear, ever capable of threatening the heavens.

— Gary Lemco

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