TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake: Highlights from Acts I-II-III; J. STRAUSS, JR.: Tales From the Vienna Woods; On the Beautiful Blue Danube; BEETHOVEN: Turkish March; MOZART: Turkish March – NBC Symphony Orchestra/ Leopold Stokowski – Cala

by | Apr 29, 2006 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

TCHAIKOVSKY: Swan Lake: Highlights from Acts I-II-III; J. STRAUSS, JR.: Tales From the Vienna Woods; On the Beautiful Blue Danube; BEETHOVEN: Turkish March; MOZART: Turkish March – NBC Symphony Orchestra/ Leopold Stokowski

Cala CACD0543 mono,  75:47 ****:

Passion and pageantry imbue every note from Leopold Stokowski’s October-November 1954 and January-February 1955 inscription of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with the NBC Symphony, an organization no longer led by Arturo Toscanini, who had stood before his players for the last time 4 April 1954. The original RCA LP (LM 1894) stood rather tall in my collection, with its own booklet; and at fifty-seven minutes of music at brilliant, brisk tempos, made a formidable sound-byte. Stokowski manages to elicit from the NBC ensemble a range of colors not always evident in their work under the Italian maestro; and the characteristic dances enjoy an idiomatic flair, from Spain, Hungary, Neapolitan Italy, and Vienna, singularly chaste and hard-driven.

I could wish that Stokowski, like Leonard Bernstein, had taken the repeat for the middle section of the Spanish Dance; but the solo violin work, as in the Act I Andante and the Act II Pas d’action–uncredited Daniel Guilet, violin, and cellist Frank Miller–is exemplary in its sweetness. The attention to agogic detail, the soft pizzicati in many of the selections, attest to Stokowski’s fine ear for the medium. The gypsy-band sonority at No. 21 is gone all too soon. The inclusion of Drigo’s interpolation of Tchaikovsky’s piano piece Espiegle, Op. 72 is noted – a light plucked strings, winds, and harp piece in a Russian-galant style. It adumbrates the Sugarplum Fairy.  The Coda possesses sweep and abandon, leading us to Act III Scene whose oboe had so much impressed us in the earlier Scenes whose melody Hollywood urged on every eerie horror film trailer. Bright sound and warm orchestral tone saturates this splendid restoration.

The collection of 1955 kitsch pieces, several recorded for issue on extended-play 45 rpm, were available on LM 2042, “In the Lighter Vein.” The use of an electric guitar in Tales From the Vienna Woods has to be a first! Nice flute work. Some willful tempos and subitos remind us that Stokowski is not quite like any other conductor. Lush but abbreviated renditions still make for a creamy, overripe impression. The Turkish March from Beethoven’s The Ruins of Athens enjoys the same “passing band” effect that Mengelberg employed in his own recording. Stokowski himself arranged Mozart’s Turkish March from the A Major Piano Sonata, K. 331, using the same coloration as in Mozart’s Abduction From the Seraglio. Vivid and electrically- sparkling, the music frolics, scampers, and gambols its way into your collectors’ circle of special recordings.

— Gary Lemco

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