Notes and Editorial Reviews
What this performance has is commitment to the expression of emotion through music, and in the final analysis it winds up serving the score better than many a more note-perfect performance.
Say what you will about Stokowski--he had fun, and it shows. At the end of Samson he has everyone in the NBC studio shrieking their lungs out, and of course he adds a tam-tam crescendo to the final bars. It may not be what the composer wrote, but surely it's what he meant, and no one has ever conveyed the sheer entertaining terror of the temple collapsing on the gloating Philistines the way that Stokowski has. Yes, in this 62 minutes of highlights from the opera he makes various random cuts and abridgements, and has no problem
touching up the scoring now and then. But has the Bacchanale ever sounded more sensual, or more violently exciting?
As for the singers: Okay, Jan Peerce's French pronunciation is unbelievably awful, but Risë Stevens sings one hell of a Delilah, and their love scene in Act 2 is positively pornographic. All of them tend to shout when they get excited, but so what? They sing as if their lives depended on what the words mean, which is precisely the point, and it's all so far removed from the cool correctness so often served up today that you may think you're hearing the music for the very first time. In short, what this performance has is commitment to the expression of emotion through music, and in the final analysis it winds up serving the score better than many a more note-perfect performance. You'll find the same quality in Licia Albanese's passionate, not quite vocally ideal reading of Tatiana's letter scene from Eugene Onegin. You may criticize this or that detail, but it's one fast quarter hour, and ultimately that's what matters.
I am not generally a fan of "historical" recordings just because they are old, or because the performers narcissistically or arrogantly mangle the music in whatever way suits them (as Mengelberg often does, for instance). There's no value in "personality" for its own sake. But that's not the point here. These interpretations aren't valuable because they are old or because no one today would dare do what Stoki does. They are compelling because they vividly convey, in astonishingly good sound for their 1950s vintage, the sheer thrilling joy of singing and playing what Saint-Saëns and Tchaikovsky wrote, and that is a standard to which all great performances should aspire. Get this disc, and enjoy. [11/17/2005]
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Samson et Dalila, Op. 47: Excerpt(s) by Camille Saint-Saëns
Risë Stevens (Mezzo Soprano),
Jan Peerce (Tenor),
Robert Merrill (Baritone)
Robert Shaw Chorale,
NBC Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1877; France
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