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Klemperer, Ravel, Brahms, Etc / Stokowski

Release Date: 04/24/2007 
Label:  Bbc Legends   Catalog #: 4205   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Otto KlempererRalph Vaughan WilliamsMaurice RavelJohannes Brahms,   ... 
Conductor:  Leopold Stokowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony OrchestraNew Philharmonia Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

KLEMPERER Der Ziel: Merry Waltz. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. RAVEL Rapsodie espagnole. BRAHMS Symphony No. 4. NOVÁCEK Perpetuum mobile 1 Leopold Stokowski, cond; London SO BBC LEGENDS 4205 (78:24) Read more Live: London 5/14/1974; 9/21/1964 1

Nearly every Stokowski concert was an extraordinary event, and this one from May 1974 was no exception.

To begin, the legendary maestro selected a real rarity: the Merry Waltz from the opera Der Ziel (1915) by a composer better known for his Beethoven recordings, Otto Klemperer. The story takes place in an asylum, and the music depicts a dance staged by several presumably deranged inmates. The waltz, written in the style of Richard Strauss, effectively portrays their unstable mental condition. Stokowski leads an exuberant, yet delightfully tongue-in-cheek performance.

Stokowski was one of the most formidable interpreters of the music of Vaughan Williams, and his BBC concert performance of the Eighth Symphony remains one of the most probing accounts of that enigmatic score. His Tallis Fantasia is lush, beautiful, and powerfully moving. Stokowski, after all, began his career as an organist, and he seems intent on producing a vast cathedral of sound in this performance. Nonetheless, he manages to keep the music moving along at a reasonable clip—faster than Bernstein, but slower than Malcolm Sargent. Although he obtains a far richer string sound from this ensemble than Riccardo Muti in his nearly contemporary recording of several Mendelssohn symphonies on EMI, it still appears that the BBC recording team let the maestro down on this occasion. While the upper strings have been captured quite vividly, there’s precious little bass—especially compared to the commercial recordings of Bernstein and Sargent mentioned above. More than any other conductor, Stokowski insisted on a strong, firm bass foundation in all of his concerts and recordings, but we can’t hear it in this instance. That, coupled with some ill-timed fortissimo coughing, prevents me from giving this otherwise splendid performance a top recommendation.

Stokowski’s Rapsodie espagnole is more sharply etched and vividly characterized than any other—even the classic Munch/Boston Symphony recording on RCA. There’s not much in the way of authentic Spanish flavor, however. Rather, this is a portrait of Spain as viewed through the distorting lens of Ravel’s Gothic imagination. The result is absolutely riveting from start to finish, with bold contrasts and stunning fortissimos. This recording is a must for anyone who loves Ravel and seeks a deeper understanding of his art.

The Brahms is, in a word, quirky. Consider the opening bars. The first movement’s main theme is based on pairs of notes that first descend, then ascend even higher. The violins that introduce the theme are marked pianissimo, but Stokowski has them play the first pair more loudly, and the second pair more softly. It’s quite effective, even if it’s obviously not what the composer intended. Overall, the first movement is presented in an improvisatory manner that makes it seem incredibly fresh and newly minted. The Andante moderato is played at a faster clip than usual. Stokowski brings an unaccustomed Promethean fire to this music, though there is also an Elgarian sweep when necessary. The strings sound truly lovely here, especially the golden, glowing cellos. The Scherzo is more Allegro moderato than Allegro giocoso. It’s heavy and ponderous, at least until the spirited coda, which has all the verve that was missing from the rest of the movement. The finale is exceptionally turbulent, though not wholly satisfying. There’s a rather timorous flute solo, and Stokowski’s phrasing is too often choppy. Tempos are all over the map, and the gearshifts tend to be rather abrupt.

Glancing through my collection, I see that all my favorite Brahms Fourths are in mono: Furtwängler, Koussevitzky, de Sabata, and Celibidache, to name just a few. Bernstein was hardly the greatest Brahms interpreter, but his stereo recording on Sony was far more consistent and effective than this Stokowski performance.

The Novácek, from a 1964 BBC concert, brings the program to a stirring conclusion.

FANFARE: Tom Godell
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Works on This Recording

Merry Waltz by Otto Klemperer
Conductor:  Leopold Stokowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  New Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1959 
Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis by Ralph Vaughan Williams
Conductor:  Leopold Stokowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  New Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910/1919; England 
Rapsodie espagnole by Maurice Ravel
Conductor:  Leopold Stokowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  New Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1907-1908; France 
Symphony no 4 in E minor, Op. 98 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Leopold Stokowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  New Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1884-1885; Austria 
Caprices (8) for Violin and Piano, Op. 5: no 2, Perpetuum mobile by Ottokar Novácek
Conductor:  Leopold Stokowski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: Czech Republic 
Notes: Orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski 

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