Stokowski – The Heart of the Ballet – Sel. of ADAM, WEBER, CHOPIN, DELIBES, TCHAIKOVSKY, DEBUSSY & BERLIOZ – Leopold Stowski & His Symphony Orchestra – Cala

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

Stokowski – The Heart of the Ballet = ADAM: Giselle–Excerpts; WEBER: Invitation to the Dance, Op. 65; CHOPIN: Les Sylphides (orch. Anderson and Bodge): 4 Excerpts; DELIBES: Sylvia: Valse lente; Pizzicato; TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake–2 Excerpts; Nutcracker Suite; DEBUSSY: L’Apres-midi d’un faune; BERLIOZ: Ballet des Sylphes – Symphony Orchestra/Leopold Stokowski

Cala CACD00547,  72:44 ( ****:

Original RCA inscriptions 1949-1951 from Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) hereby restored in stunning sound by Paschal Byrne and Phil Rowlands. Stokowski took members of the New York Philharmonic and assorted independent musicians to Manhattan Center, New York to inscribe “the most tuneful numbers from the most popular ballets” in order to create both a beginner’s primer for the burgeoning ballet collector, as well as another document celebrating “The Stokowski Sound.”

Stokowski opens with four brief moments from Giselle, already resonant with the post-Hollywood lushness that marked the Maestro’s inscriptions after 1941. Violinist Michael Rosenker does the solo honors, portraying Giselle’s broken-hearted love for the noble Loys.  Cellist Laszlo Varga brings a burnished luster to Weber’s Invitation to the Dance–or Le Spectre de la Rose–in an arrangement by Berlioz, Weingartner, and Stokowski himself, one that softens the big chord re-introducing the cello solo as an epilogue to the Diaghilev scenario.  Two of the Boston Pops arrangers set Chopin’s music in over-ripe textures for Les Sylphides, of which the Grand Valse Brillante, Op. 18 serves as a rousing peroration.  Both Adam and Delibes received only one recorded consideration from Stokowski, both on 16 May 1950. The Pizzicato from Act III has light feet and incisive delivery, as does Valse lent, in which woodland nymph gathers in her requisite supply of moonlight. John Wummer’s flute captivates us consistently.

The music of Tchaikovsky always elicits Stokowski’s urgent sympathy, and his May-June sessions devoted to Swan Lake and The Nutcracker are no exception. While this reading of the Nutcracker Suite (from LM 9029) may not emanate the same eroticism as his realizations with the Philadelphia Orchestra, it still dazzles with color and verve. John Wummer’s pipings over shimmering strings appeals directly to our sense of Christmas wonder. The sonic definition in Stokowski’s bass section might convince us Koussevitzky was at work. John Corigliano provides a sensuous Dance of the Swan Queen that combines with Varga‘s cello for a splendid duet; while Robert Bloom’s oboe and David Oppenheim’s clarinet add a distinctly gypsy flavor to the Dance of the Little Swans. A very slow Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy makes us savor the celesta; the Arabian Dance moves more quickly than its languorous appearance in Fantasia.

Finally, the ubiquitous Debussy Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun – recorded commercially seven times by Stokowski – here plush and riveting, captured (4 October 1949) with John Wummer’s flute and Robert Bloom’s oboe. The diaphanous Dance of the Sylphs from The Damnation of Faust reminded me that, like Stokowski, Mengelberg had fondly realized this exquisite miniature; for Stokowski, Lucille Lawrence’s harp helps intone the beguiled dream of Faust for his Marguerite.

— Gary Lemco


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