on 9 October 2012
There are a number of boxed sets of Leopold Stokowski's recordings currently available. There is the Membran ten CD box of recordings made between 1926 and 1945, mainly with the Philadelphia Orchestra, limited in sound quality but containing many fascinating performances (see my review). Then we have the EMI box in their Icon series, which restored to the catalogue many of the recordings Stokowski made with various orchestras in the 1950's, some of them of more unfamiliar works and including such rarities as symphonies by Gliere and Khachaturian, to say nothing of pieces by Farberman, Perischeti and Loeffler. The sound quality in these is very good and, unlike the Membran box, there is a booklet with a good essay by Raymond Holden. BBC Legends have put three discs in a slip case. These are of public performances, including the quite stunning Mahler 2 from July 1963 - the first performance of this work at the Proms - and an amazing Brahms 4 from Stokowski's last concert in London in May 1974. Then there is the 14 CD box Leopold Stokowski: The Stereo Collection 1954-1975 from Sony, which is full of good things, including a studio performance of Mahler 2 from 1974, which is perhaps not quite as electrifying as the Royal Albert Hall performance. Now we have this further issue from Sony: Leopold Stokowski: The Columbia Stereo Recordings.
In terms of production values and quality of presentation and packaging this is truly outstanding. It reproduces the original LP's: not only the individual sleeves, but even the LP labels, or side one of these, with each CD made to look like an LP. Very nostalgic! This means, of course, that the reverse sides of the sleeves need to be read with the aid of a magnifying glass! There is an excellent booklet with notes by Edward Johnson and some nice photographs of the great conductor.
And what a conductor Stokowski was, even in his extreme old age. Some of these recordings are from 1976/77 when he was 94/95 and show no decline whatsoever in his amazing powers over an orchestra - any orchestra. Two of the last to be made were of Mendelssohn's Italian Symphony and Bizet's youthful Symphony in C and they are simply breathtaking in their freshness, vigour and vitality. There is a quite wonderful Brahms 2 and Tragic Overture which are full of expressive warmth and power. There is a quite stunning account of Falla's El amor brujo with the superb Shirley Verrett, which is even better, I think, than his much earlier recording with Nan Merriman, excellent though that is. There is more Bizet - Carmen Suites and L'Arlesienne - with superb orchestral playing. Indeed, in these late recordings the listener is gripped again and again by the precision of attack from the orchestra. There is a disc of some of his transcriptions. Just listen to the first one - the Flight of the Bumblebee - and be amazed! The performance of Sibelius's first symphony is a truly great one, with a slow movement that is quite breathtaking in its unfolding of the music. There is also some Bach - a fine old-fashioned account of the fifth Brandenburg Concerto, as well as three chorale preludes, Aurora's Wedding from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, the highly individual recording of Beethoven's Emperor Concerto with Glenn Gould (see my review) and the fourth symphony and other works by Charles Ives. I did not know these Ives pieces and therefore cannot make any comparison with other recordings, but it sounds to me that Stokowski had the measure of them. But then he would!
This box is a superb bargain and is advertised as a limited edition. So get yourself one before it disappears. It reveals the art of truly one of the greatest conductors of all time. He could be controversial, and even sometimes perverse, but he sure makes you listen afresh to whatever he conducts.
Few conductors can have influenced performance and recording styles from the early part of the century through to the "hi-fidelity" recording era as much as Stokowski. He is credited with initiating the "American" orchestra positioning with first and second violins to the conductors left, cellos, basses and violas to his right, founding numerous orchestras and developing and improving many others, championing contemporary works and premiering major works by established "giants."
He also attracted a veritable legion of detractors, who decried his performance antics, cast doubts on his origins, accused him of taking credit for transcriptions which he had in fact commissioned from struggling musicians and in particular lambasted him from altering the scores of others.
Rumours that he had been born as plain old Leo or Leonard Stokes (I heard both versions) have been proven to be false, as has the scurrilous suggestion that he claimed false credit for his transcriptions-there is a wealth of evidence from reliable sources confounding this accusation. The tinkering with scores was an established practice in the late 19th and early 20th century, indulged in frequently by the likes of Toscanini, Walter, Klemperer-and the Schalk brothers practically rewrote Bruckner! The only 2 composers who were immune from the Stokowski scrutiny were by his admission Mahler and Shostakovich, though it must be made clear he did not alter every score he conducted, far from it.
To many in the "purist" sector, he was no better than we might think of André Rieu today, but to the sensible and open minded he was a magician and musician of phenomenal talent.
This superb collection highlights the best-and occasionally the worst-of these traits in performances from the last 15 years of his extraordinary life, when with his musical and mental powers undimmed, he threw himself into a frenzy of recording for various labels including CBS (American Columbia), RCA, Decca (Phase 4), Pye, EMI and Desmar and directing a wide range of orchestras including all the London orchestras and many in Europe.
This collection opens with his last recordings with the Philadelphia from 1960 and continues with his own American Symphony Orchestra (based in New York) and the majority of the discs are with the National Philharmonic Orchestra. This was an "ad hoc "orchestra which came about thanks to the actions of Charles Gerhardt when RCA split from Decca in the UK in 1967.
Gerhardt had become A&R Director at the newly formed RCA UK , and he commissioned Sidney Sax, a highly accomplished violinist who developed into a successful impresario and "session " fixer for film and television to form a house recording orchestra similar to the Philharmonia for EMI in the 40's and 50's. Thus was the National Philharmonic created, and it quickly outgrew the needs of RCA and became widely engaged for concerts and recordings under some of the most illustrious conductors of the era. It was composed from first desk artists from all the major London orchestras, and the first violins frequently comprised the leaders of ALL the major orchestras.
Names to be found performing in this band include Friend, Gruenberg, Taweel, Bean, Georgiadis, Civil, Tuckwell, de Peyer,Wilbraham, Gwydion Brooke, Brymer, a whole phalanx of Craxtons and Ossian Ellis to name but a few.
Stokowski was always concerned with recording and performing acoustics, and just would not record in a venue where he was not happy with them.
He loathed the RFH and Albert Hall-his favourite London venue was the Fairfield Halls in Croydon.
Recorded in of all places, West Ham Assembly Rooms, the National Philharmonic sound like the Philadelphia at their most glorious in a spacious acoustic with just enough reverberation!
Though many if not all of these performances have appeared before in other guises, they have been newly remastered for this release and the sound is stunning.
I will not go as far as the reviewer who suggests that the El Amor Brujo sounds like it was recorded yesterday-it is remarkably fine, especially considering its 1960 recording date, but there are elements of it being dated.
The performance by the way is the finest imaginable, and I was particularly moved by the idiomatic contribution of Shirley Verret.
All of the performances stand comparison with best available, with the possible exception of the Beethoven, which though fine enough, does not catch fire or move me particularly largely through what I hear as Gould's detachment.
The Ives 4th Symphony is a remarkable achievement, and the recording background is well recounted by José Serebrier, who was introduced to the musical public by Stokowski as one of the 2 secondary conductors needed for this work. It's a complex piece, not one I return to often, but if I do, it is this recording. Particularly fine are the transcriptions, all of which except for the Debussy and the Radio 3 Blooper "The Bum of the Flightel Bee" were unfamiliar to me, and Aurora's Wedding is a triumph. The added piano "continuo" IS authentic, though there are additional harp glissandi and doubled brass. I like the Bach, as it captures the spirit of the works, but can well imagine that others won't like this section. The Bizet Suites disc is unusually comprehensive, and you won't find a better selection or performance. These are highlights of a superb collection, but there is one piece I have to mention. Included on the first Philadelphia disc is a 25 minute "synthesis" of the so-titled Love Music from Acts 2 and 3 of Tristan.
Those who know my tastes from other reviews will realise that this is going to be anathema to me. I love it. It's just great. Shorn of the vocal line, Wagner's music from Act 2 unfolds with luminous beauty, making one realise how near to this music Schoenberg's Gurrelieder is, and it glides seamlessly into the Liebestod. Of course, there are additional string arpeggios and glissandi and the harpist must have had shredded fingers by the end, being required to play throughout which Wagner certainly did not write-but it is all done in remarkably good and restrained taste, so that one almost wishes he had added a couple more touches of Hollywood!
The cost of this 10 disc set is paltry, the presentation is pleasing with just enough essay notes, the recordings vary from very good to superb and the music making is exalted and unique. This is recommendable on so many levels and for so many reasons that the awarding of stars is meaningless-if you love music, if you love great music making, just order this set. You cannot fail to derive endless joy from it. Unlimited Stars. Stewart Crowe.
on 24 May 2013
This is an outstanding and low priced boxed set of memorable Stokowski performances. I have been a great fan of Stokowski since I saw him at the proms many years ago. Also as a child I found his 78 rpm records captivating. These ten discs are exceptionally clear and sound like recent recordings. There is considerable variety as well. Although some write Stokowski off as a showman, he was both a showman and a genius, one of the greatest conductors of all time. He championed new music and brought fresh life to well established music. His performance of Sibelius First Symphony is vibrant and dramatic and at times quite touching and moving. The set contains his very last recordings of all, Bizet Symphony in C and L'Arlesienne Suites. It also has Charles Ives 4th Symphony. Although this is not my cup of tea, it is a remarkable tribute to Stokowski's skill at dealing with a complicated and difficult pieces of music. There is also an excellent booklet with the set. Everything about this product is five star and a must for all classical music fans. I am glad to own this set as I do not have any of these on records or CD although I have a massive collection of his work. This may be the best boxed set of Stokowski's work. Finally read the other 5 star review, they helped me make my choice to buy this set.
on 29 October 2012
As with many other larger-than-life musicians, Stokowski divided opinion throughout his long career. His penchant for tampering with the scores of masterpieces was not one of his better talents. However, for many of us he was a very great conductor who made many recordings which are now gramophone classics. If, like me, you are one of the faithful, and have been hesitating to add this set of CDs to your collection, do so no longer; it is a treasure chest of great Stokowski stereo recordings. I had many of them on earlier CD reissues and the remastering they have received here is the best yet. The acoustics of the various recording venues are now clearly revealed and there is more air around instruments than previously. Some of the items (e.g. the Falla from 1960) sound as if they were recorded recently. This set should also interest the audiophile. Strongly recommended to the Stokowski admirer..
on 16 July 2013
quite honestly if you don`t buy this, you are MAD!!. the quality of the sony re-mastering is second to none, i`m sure that sonys propriety super bit mapping technology was used. the presentation in simply stunning!! both sonically and pictorially - sleeves and case that is.
the sound of the woodwinds of the great philadelphia orchestra is simply gorgeous. to have the ives 4th sounding this wonderful just goes to show what sonys engineers can really do. bearing in mind that this is an extremely complex score, and then stokie adds to the orchestration, and stokies own american symphony orchestra, the schola cantorum of new york, the allen digital computer organ together with associate conductors jose serebrier and david katz all make for a truly spectacular recorded performance.
well, thats all for now, time to really wake the nebourhood up!! WAGNER TRISTAN love scenes, beautifull and moving.
hope you all enjoy this magical music making as much as i am.
There are some very thorough, helpful and perceptive reviews already posted here, so I'll merely add a few words to confirm the excellence and desirability of this super-bargain collection.
There was a time - and perhaps for some that is still the case - when it was mandatory to preface any expression of admiration for Stokowski's recordings with the admission that they were "a guilty pleasure". Surely by now his standing as a conductor, recording pioneer and arranger of genius is beyond doubt; in any case, I don't care because I love most of his work.
The chief pleasure here, apart from marvelling at how a man of such advanced years could continue to exert such magnetism and mastery, is in the variety, artistic excellence and sound quality of these recordings. The first two of these ten discs were recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1960 when Stokie was already in his late seventies; the third and fourth were recorded in the mid-sixties (of the century, not his; he was already in his early eighties) with the "American Symphony Orchestra" and the final half dozen were made with his National Philharmonic, the last in June 1977 when he was, incredibly, 95 years old. There is no perceptible diminution in his drive and energy - a feat which will surely never be equalled.
These CDs are inevitably short-measure by modern CD standards because for the most part they are re-mastered reproductions of the original LP issues: numbers 2 and 6 are under 40 minutes, 3, 7 and 8 are hardly much longer and only the Ives disc, a compilation, is over an hour. This does not matter at the asking price. The reproductions of the sleeve-notes are hard to read for those of failing eyesight but worth the bother of using a magnifying glass in order to read them more comfortably.
CD1: "El amor brujo" is a tremendous recording with Shirley Verrett doing a convincing impersonation of a Spanish gypsy, gutsy, shouty lower register and all. The percussive verve of the Philadelphians is perfect.
CD2: Rather bass heavy but the playing is delicate of touch; old-fashioned Bach to delight the traditionalist.
CD3: Perhaps I'm hallucinating but I swear Stokie has, in typical fashion, beefed up the orchestration by enhancing the brass and adding extra trumpets. There is too much pulling about of the tempi, which, in combination with GG's humming along and the general blowsiness of the orchestral playing, does little service to Beethoven, but then there is some marvellously precise, poetic and muscular playing from the pianist and some interesting and very deliberate artistic decisions, such as the playing of trills as slower sixteenth notes.The Adagio is lusciously leisurely and the Finale thrilling.
CD4: Stokowski famously lectured a restive audience for showing their lack of appreciation for Ives' music. I respect his motives but I'm with them....
CD5: Stokowski was born to conduct Bizet; these are infectiously lilting accounts to rank with Beecham's; just occasionally his tempi are too deliberate. for my taste.
CD6: A cornucopia of lollipops, gorgeously played. Most of it sounds like film music but the best film music you've ever heard. I didn't know the Novacek and it's a winner.
CD7: The best Sibelius Symphony No. 1 I know, full of grandeur and mystery; playing of great delicacy and detail in the slow movement. "Tapiola" is brooding and atmospheric. Dynamics are very carefully graded and the soloists on oboe, cello and timpani are virtuosi.
CD8: Brilliant Tchaikovsky in a rather saccharine suite.
CD9: Youthful, vibrant Mendelssohn and Bizet (see above), in the Beecham mode and from a nonagenarian.
CD10: Lyrical, bucolic Brahms played quite "straight". Fine but unremarkable; the Allegro trips along serenely but the performance as a whole lacks the last degree of tension - however, that is present in spades in the "Tragic Overture", which is crisp and alert, building to a thrilling climax.
Stokowski fans need not hesitate, especially at this price.
on 17 June 2014
I don't normally write reviews of CDs as I have none of the musicology of other reviewers to offer, but this set is a must-buy. The sound quality and stereo sound-stage are striking, but the music itself is fantastic. It makes me wonder how did Stokowski do it? How did he get such performances from his orchestra?
There's a pretty eclectic range of orchestral works here, many of which I would never have bought separately but I'm glad to have them in this set. It's a bit like inheriting someone's record collection from the 70s but being able to play them on modern equipment. The retro packaging is a nice touch, but as has been said elsewhere you can't read the sleeve notes without a magnifying glass and since I have ripped the CDs to FLAC I might never look at the packaging again as long as I live.
I'm going to suggest to Amazon that in addition to allowing free downloads of MP3 versions of the music they also offer jpegs of the CD covers, because if you prefer to use lossless FLAC then you have to find the CD images yourself (or scan the packaging) to embed into your files. I couldn't find images for all ten individual sleeves in this set, and scanning them myself is a bit tedious.
But for thirteen pound-odd this has been an excellent buy.
This box is a companion to Leopold Stokowski: The Stereo Collection 1954-1975 which was devoted to the conductor's RCA stereo recordings.
This is devoted to his stereo recordings for Columbia Records (RCA and Columbia are both now owned by Sony).
They're all here, including his final recording session (Bizet/Mendelssohn).
He was 95 years old (!), but no allowance need be made. These are wonderful performances.
Unlike the RCA collection, which was a Sony super-budget affair (no booklet, the same basic design for each jacket), this collection is part of the "Original Jacket" series.
One oddity - Unlike other boxes in that series, the words "Original Jacket Collection" appear nowhere on the box.
Also unlike other boxes in that series, this one is super-budget priced.
There are 10 cardboard CD jackets, each of which features a reproduction of the original LP cover on the front, and the original liner notes on the back (you need a magnifying glass to read them).
Also a reproduction of the original "Columbia Masterworks" label on each CD.
There is a bonus on the Ives disc, which originally featured only the 4th Symphony: The Robert Browning Overture and 4 Songs for Chorus and Orchestra (originally these were part of a 4 LP set devoted to Ives' 100th birthday). Unfortunately no notes (or texts) for the bonus items.
There is a 32 page booklet with a nice article in English/German/French, some photos of Stokowski and a track listing for each CD.
There are a lot of people who like this format - I think it would have been more convenient if they put the track listings on the back of each jacket, and the liner notes in the booklet (DG did it this way in their Complete Vladimir Horowitz box).
Unlike other recent Sony boxes, this one does not advertise "24 bit high resoluton audio".
No word at all about the remasterings.
Some of these CDs date back to the 1980s; its quite possible that they just reissued existing 16 and 20 bit audio masters.
If anybody knows otherwise, I'd appreciate an update in the "Comments" section at the end.
Everything sounds fine to me.
I was a long-term reader of Gramophone magazine and from there I got indoctrinated that Stokowski needed to be approached with caution in view of his penchant for re-orchestration. So I went through life largely ignoring him. Mistake. This is one of the few large boxes I have bought which I have listened to in its entirety within a week of buying. I immediately ordered the EMI Icon box as well. Fortunately the repertoire on the Icon box is very different. The recording of the Emperor concerto with Glenn Gould is worth the price alone. A true meeting of unconventional minds. It is hard to credit many of these recordings were made by a man in his 80s and 90s. Ignore at your peril.
on 12 November 2014
A superb set of 10CDs showcasing the brilliance that Stokowski brought to his recordings and performance of orchestral music. A real showman with great class.