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Notes and Editorial Reviews
Leopold Stokowski, cond;
Dimitri Mitropoulos, cond;
Symphony of the Air;
Martin Leskow (ob);
Abe Goldstein (cl);
Jacques Margolies (vn);
David Katz (va);
Fred Zimmerman (db);
David Weber (cl);
William Masselos (pn);
Samuel Weiss (vn);
Avron Twerdowsky (vc);
Sebastian Caratelli (fl);
Albert Goltzer (ob);
Harold Goltzer (bs);
David Rattner (hn)
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000860902, mono (2 CDs: 116:49)
Serenade No. 1 in D.
Quintet in g.
Overture on Hebrew Themes.
W. L. DAWSON
Negro Folk Symphony.
Despite his reputation for flamboyance and theatrical affectation, Leopold Stokowski (1882–1977) held sway at the helm of the Philadelphia Orchestra for nearly 30 years, largely creating the famous “Philadelphia sound.” His mannerisms and interpretive license, even during his lifetime, left many critics aghast; today, many of his recordings tend to produce more eye-rolling than they do raised eyebrows. Still, Stokowski is not so easily dismissed as the Liberace of the podium. Yes, he retouched scores by Beethoven, Brahms, Mussorgsky, Tchaikovsky, and Sibelius to suit his whim; but he also took seriously modern music of his day, giving the US premieres of four of Shostakovich’s symphonies, Stravinsky’s
Rite of Spring
, the original version of Mussorgsky’s
, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, and the last three of Sibelius’s symphonies. Nor was Stokowski a stranger to Brahms, having left multiple recordings of all four of the composer’s symphonies. So it is not surprising to find in this diverse collection the conductor’s take on Brahms’s youthful and first orchestral work, the D-Major Serenade.
Skeptic that I was before I heard it, I must say that the performance quickly won me over. Stokowski doesn’t mess with Brahms’s scoring, and he turns out a reading that is remarkably disciplined, refreshingly brisk, and one that conveys the impression of a young man filled with emerging springtime yearnings out on an invigorating ramble through the countryside, singing joyfully as he goes. Stokowski captures the essence of the piece with acuity sharper than that of just about any modern version I’ve heard. And the sound of the 1960 recording is nothing short of fantastic.
Stepping forward next is Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896–1960), a conductor whose legacy has gone largely underappreciated. Making his US debut with the Boston Symphony in 1936, he was subsequently offered the post of principal conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony, a position he accepted and held from 1937 to 1949. His early championing of Berg and Schoenberg resulted in a number of groundbreaking recordings, and his interest in Mahler was a strong influence on Leonard Bernstein. Unfortunately, Mitropoulos’s troubles began not long after he left Minneapolis to take over the podium of the New York Philharmonic in 1951. In the more hypercritical and competitive cosmopolitanism of New York culture, Mitropoulos was not a savvy player. The NYPO’s musicians didn’t warm to him; he was not highly regarded by agents and record companies; and in the poisoned politics of the McCarthy era, it didn’t help his cause that the gay Mitropoulos chose not to paper over his sexual orientation with a sham marriage of convenience. By 1957, general hostility to his continued leadership drove him from New York, to be replaced by Bernstein, the conductor he had mentored.
Mitropoulos’s contribution to this program is somewhat atypical, in that the three works he leads here would normally be performed sans conductor, being in fact chamber music compositions. Nonetheless, at the time these recordings were made (1950), all of the players involved were recent New York Ensemble of the Philharmonic Scholarship Winners. As such, they were young, and as yet unseasoned; to have a conductor lead them was a sensible decision. The mono sound is quite good, but these works are hardly a yardstick by which to take full measure of Mitropoulos’s art; and clearly more recent recordings of this repertoire by members of the Boston Symphony and Chamber Music Northwest (for the Prokofiev Quintet), and the Southwest Chamber Music Society (for the
Overture on Hebrew Themes
) are to be preferred if performance and sound quality take precedence for you over the quasi-historical importance of these particular offerings. This may, however, be your only chance to hear Howard Swanson’s (1907–1978)
a decet, or what amounts to a double quintet for winds (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn) and strings (two violins, viola, cello, and double bass), since I am not aware of another recording. Written the same year it was recorded (1950), the piece is a 10-minute, mostly tranquil nocturne whose musical vocabulary is strongly influenced by the superannuated vaguely non-tonal hothouse chromaticism of Alban Berg.
Returning to Stokowski, we have another fantastic recording, this one of William Levi Dawson’s (1899–1990)
Negro Folk Symphony
. Competition exists on a 1990s recording from Neeme Järvi leading the Detroit Symphony on a Chandos CD, coupled with William Grant Still’s Second Symphony. I have that recording, and I can tell you that the Stokowski yields nothing in terms of sonic splendor, and Järvi takes a back seat to “Stokie” when it comes to capturing the character and flavor of the piece. It’s a stunning score, and one that needs to be in your collection if it isn’t already.
For the two Stokowski contributions—the Brahms and the Dawson—urgently recommended. For the Mitropoulos items, I would have to say that as much as I admire his efforts on these recordings, his strengths are better represented in major symphonic repertoire, of which many of his LP releases have been well served on CD.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Negro Folk Symphony by William Levi Dawson
New York Philharmonic Scholarship Winners 1949-50
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1934; USA
Date of Recording: 1961
Serenade no 1 in D major, Op. 11 by Johannes Brahms
Symphony of the Air
Written: 1857-1858; Germany
Date of Recording: 1963
Average Customer Review: ( 1 Customer Review )
Orchestral Grandeur!! September 6, 2012
By W. Brown (Centerburg, OH) See All My Reviews
"Leopold Stokowski is one of those controversial conductors. Purists despise him for not alway being "authentic" in his interpretations. Stokowski is known for bringing out the orchestral colors in a work. This cd is no exception. For starters, we have a 1960 recording of Brahms Serenade No. 1 - one of the best readings ever committed to disk. The orchestral coloring just leaps out in his conducting. For a treat, we have a lesser known work - Dawson's Negro Folk Symphony. Again, its the orchestral colorings that Stokowski brings out. For those not sure about Stokowski's interpretations, come with an "open" mind and enjoy the music for "music's sake". I guarantee you won't be disappointed - highly recommended!!"