This CD of concerts by tne NBC Symphony Orchestra celebrates the era when Stokowski succeeded Toscanini as leader of that group. The Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 4 is from a 1943 while the Butterworth and Antheil were performed in a 1944 concert. The CD was produced from acetate transcription disks and you can hear surface noise in quieter moments of the VW finale at the 2:30-3 minute mark.
What I found most interesting here is the world premiere performance of the Symphony No. 4 by American George Antheil subtitled "1942". The composer was born in New Jersey in 1900 and was considered a neoclassic composer. The symphony reflects the composer's personal discord over World War II and is temperamentally in a vein with war symphonies by Shostakovich and Prokofiev.
The symphony begins with hard driven military affects similar to those in Shostakovich's "Leningrad" symphony and evolves into a gypsy dance and woodwind-string andante in the second movement. The scherzo roars back to military rhythms -- representing the unkind joke of the war, according to the composer -- before more military rhythms punctuated by a lowly bassoon precede the victorious finale, Antheil's suggestion of allied victory to come.
This symphony has been recorded a couple times in recent years on the Naxos label as part of its American Classics series. I haven't heard those renditions although they have been well-received by Amazon reviewers.
George Butterworth was an Englishman that died in World War I. His "A Shropshire Lad" is a sentimenatl 10-minute excursion for orchestra that could be a musical score from the 1930s or 1940s. It contains all the subtleties of the English countryside.
The signature piece on this CD, Stoki's only recording of Vaughan Williams mighty Symphony No. 4, was the first nonEnglish broadcast of the then-new symphony. It is characteristically done in Stoki style.
Eschewing much of the violence and warlike features many of today's conductors work into the music, the maestro seemed instead interested in projecting Vaughan Williams' actual message -- that the symphony represented not the coming war in Europe but the interaction of humans on our planet.
Where this is most apparent is in the slow introduction to the first movement and the lengthy development between the big outbursts. There Stoki leads the orchestra in an almost mystical understanding of the score. He sustains remarkable tension throughout the second movement making this sound closer in temperament to the composer's Symphony No. 6, right through the final flute solo. The back half of the symphony is more traditionally in keeping with other performances of the music through the final timpani-induced notes of the finale.
I think this CD would have been more effective with its program reversed -- with the more topical (for the time) Antheil symphony appearing first, followed by the sentimental Butterworth, and concluding with the Vaughan Williams. I programmed by player to do this and found the CD far more interesting than the first time I heard it.
Any way you do it, however, this is a keepsake for fans of Stokowski and a worthy statement about his beginning with a new orchestra during the war.