The joint venture between Cala and the Stokowski Society in Britain, now having come to an end, still leaves several dozen wonderful reissues of LPs and 78s that were both famous and popular. Stokowski focused intensely on recording throughout his six decade career in front of the microphones, so it helps to straighten out the many repetitions in his output.
I respect Jeffrey Lipscomb's point of view, that of a highly experienced collector, but for the general listener, this CD can e appreciated on its own merits. The "Les Preludes" displays Stokowski's magic with warhorses. Like Toscanini's famous William Tell Over., a staple of Hollywood B movies and Looney Tunes is transformed by great music-making. for 1947 the mono sound is clear and clean. The orchestra is set far back, depriving us of visceral impact, and the bass is shy. Even so, this is such an exciting and committed reading that none of that matters.
The Swan of Tuonela is thrown in as a tidbit. Sound quality jumps into another world; everything is close up and fully dynamic. It's hard to believe that the date remains 1947. Stokowski's approach is more vigorous and less dreamy than the usual; he makes much of the string writing and surges of bass instead of turning the piece into a mini cor anglais concerto. Mitch Miller's playing is quite beautiful and not fussed over.
The main attraction is Stokowski's extensive suite from The Sleeping Beauty, recorded again in 1947, this time in middling sound as compared to the previous two items. At 52 min., this is longer than the garish 1965 Phase Four stereo remake for Decca. The live version from that same year on BBC Legends is better. Yet for me this Cala release, despite its historical sonics, shows Stokowski at is best. He could be vulgar in Tchaikovsky, frankly, but on this occasion the spirit of the dance comes through beautifully. The sparkling and witty bits are especially nice. There are no disney excesses to satisfy populist taste but real sophistication and care. The musicians are top-notch New York frelancers, including many from the Philharmonic and NBC Sym. They play with vitality and commitment. In all, this is one of Cala's most desirable releases, a treasure from the archives.