Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 1.
Tristan and Isolde
: Love Music from acts II & III
Leopold Stokowski, cond; Philadelphia O
GUILD 2402 (69:07) Live: Philadelphia 2/23/60
Stokowski must have admired this Symphony quite a bit, for he made five official recordings of it: in 1927 and 1936 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, in 1941 with the All-American Youth Orchestra, in 1946 with the “Hollywood Bowl Orchestra,” and in
1972 with the London Symphony Orchestra. He said he was particularly struck by the Symphony’s “wonderful wealth of melody,” though he doesn’t linger over it—indeed, all the performances tend to be on the fast side with very similar timings; once he decided how the piece should go, he apparently stuck to his guns. If you’re wondering about the 1941 recording, Columbia never issued it, but an LP test pressing turned up in a radio station’s record collection and it was duly authenticated and issued on CD by the Leopold Stokowski Society of America. Unfortunately, it is in limbo at present. The five recordings share two interpretive quirks: Stokowski omits the third movement’s repeat, and he does a huge rallentando in the big restatement of the chorale near the end of the Finale—other conductors have been known to do it, too, but no one stretches it out like he does. I’d say that the recording sound improves as we go from 1927 to 1936 to 1941, but the Hollywood Bowl (I almost typed “bowel”) Orchestra recording is cursed with mushy, over-resonant sonics. It also has the biggest rallentando of the five. Alas, that’s the one I learned the piece on. The best-sounding one is the only stereo one, that with the London Symphony Orchestra for Decca.
Now we have an “unofficial” stereo recording from February 1960 with the Philadelphia Orchestra. It shares its attributes with the others but with an interesting difference: It was obviously recorded at a concert during which Stokowski used his unorthodox way of seating the players—strings on the left, winds and brass on the right, basses in the rear toward the right. Much of the “action” will come from your left speaker, especially in the Wagner-Stokowski arrangement, which Guild calls a “Symphonic Synthesis” but which
called “Love Music from Acts II and III” when he recorded it with the All-American Orchestra and later, with the Philadelphia Orchestra. What is usually called his
Tristan and Isolde
“Symphonic Synthesis” is a different arrangement, though it shares a lot of the same music but also includes some music from the first act. The “official” Philadelphia recording was on Columbia/Sony but later reissued by IMF. Unfortunately, it’s gone and Sony has, so far, not seen fit to reissue it, merely offering his
Prelude and Love Death
with the Royal Philharmonic. Given that unpleasant reality, I would say “buy this CD,” unorthodox sound or not. Both Philadelphia performances are simply ravishing—here, he more than justifies Mitch Miller’s description of him as a “magic” conductor. The studio recording uses the more conventional stereo setup with violins to the left, cellos and violas to the right. The All-American one isn’t bad, either, but he omits the Prelude to act II and King Marke’s distant hunting horns.
FANFARE: James Miller
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 68 by Johannes Brahms
Written: 1855-1876; Austria
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