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Wagner: Symphonic Syntheses By Stokowski

Wagner: Symphonic Syntheses By Stokowski

1 Sep 2007
4.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Original Release Date: 1 Sept. 2007
  • Release Date: 1 Sept. 2007
  • Label: Naxos
  • Copyright: ℗© 2007 Naxos
  • Total Length: 1:14:23
  • Genres:
  • ASIN: B001LZJDGK
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 226,698 in Albums (See Top 100 in Albums)
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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Some of the pieces here are much as Wagner composed them, with only marginal orchestral interpolations, eg. the Ride of the Valkyries, and Wotan's Farewell and the Magic Fire. But two of the pieces on this disc were ambitiously re-arranged by Stokowski as 'symphonic syntheses' -the Liebesnacht and other music from Tristan, and music from Parsifal Act II.

It's naturally a matter of opinion, but the effect of these syntheses can be variable. For example when Tristan's exposed line, "O sink hernieder", is given to the 'cellos the interpolation isn't entirely convincing. On the other hand, Brangaene's Watch is beautifully done without the voice, the effect remains haunting in this version.

I enjoyed listening to this unusual Wagner disc, it's an experience to hear this wonderful operatic music as entirely orchestral -despite the queasy moments. The Tristan and Parsifal arrangements are the most striking and interesting pieces, being least-often heard without voices. In the main the performances of these 'symphonic syntheses' work, in particular the ravishing Tristan music -though possibly they required Stokowsky himself to conduct them. The recorded sound is excellent.
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I'm the last person to be attracted to bleeding chunks of opera: unlike my father, who perversely prefers purely orchestral Wagner. Add in the arrangements by another hand, and you'd imagine this would be of little interest- but you'd be wrong.

Stokowski was such a flamboyant character that his fame has outlived him by quite a margin. Mention the name today and you're likely to come up with his large and spangly version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor (tie an `original instruments' enthusiast down and play him this at full volume....!). But he was also a great educator and expander of the repertoire. Clearly, playing full-scale Wagner operas in the concert hall was out of the question, but all that glorious music..!

What we have on this CD are fairly extensive orchestral extracts, the difference being that Stokowski has not stuck to the existing orchestral highlights but has gone into the vocal territory as well, re-casting sung lines as instrumental ones and adapting the orchestral palette to match.

The surprise is just how well this process works. Stokowski's re-voicing is generally subtle, not overblown. The results are cogent and satisfying tone poems which do not short-change Wagner in any way. Indeed, they are a stimulating listen.

The sound on this recording is extraordinary: I've never heard the Poole acoustic come across as well as this before. The playing of the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is superb- especially rich in the string and woodwind sections, and Jose Serebrier conducts the whole affair with conviction. Highly recommended.
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Format: Audio CD
I'll say this for Stokowski: he had no compunctions about gilding the lily. Wagner's orchestrations for his music dramas was (and still is) among the richest and lushest and most inventive of any in the repertoire. But for his symphonic presentations of Wagner's music Leopold Stokowski added here, subtracted there from the orchestration in order to make it, in his mind, more effective. For instance, to the skittering violins in the Magic Fire Music from 'Die Walküre' he added flutes and piccolos, making it more brilliant, for sure, but it's not exactly Wagner. Granted Stokowski came out of the era in which conductors often tampered with the orchestrations of the composers who came before them. For instance, Mahler re-orchestrated Schumann's symphonies. Still, when one comes to listen to Stokowski's 'symphonic syntheses' of Wagner's music one must to some extent put the sound of Wagner's own orchestration out of one's mind. If one does, one is greet with undoubtedly effective, even thrilling, sound. And that is what happens here in this recreation of several of Stokowski's efforts on Wagner's behalf. José Serebrier was, of course, Stokowski's assistant for a number of years and if I'm not mistaken this is his third recent CD of Stokowski arrangements; there were earlier CDs containing music of Bach, and of Russian music including Stokowski's 1939 orchestration of Mussorgsky's 'Pictures at an Exhibition.'

The big event on the present CD is Stokowski's 'symphonic synthesis' of three parts of 'Tristan und Isolde': the Prélude to Act I, the Liebesnacht, and the Liebestod. By far the longest section is the deliriously ecstatic Liebesnacht, almost twenty-one minutes long. It is a perfect lead-in to the even more ecstatic Liebestod.
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I'm not a fan of Wagner, sharing Mark Twain's opinion that it is not as bad as it sounds, but this recording, especially the sections from Tristan und Isolde, are hypnotic. The sound is rich and the performance is sure; this disk is a definite bargain. Try also Stokowski's orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition from the same team of Naxos and Serebrier. Also worth hearing
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I believe my heading for this review says it all.

The only connection this recording has to the great man is it uses his symphonic syntheses. Unfortunately, it doesn't come with the flair of Stokowski as its conductor and therefore lacks that one very important ingredient. Serebrier plays all the right notes, but not in the manner of Stokowski.

I have most, if not all of Stokowsk's stereo recordings, including the very fine Decca releases, and it isn't necessary to get this disc purely on the grounds that it is a fairly modern recording and thus post-dates his earlier issues and must, as a consequence, be superior in sound. It isn't.

This inexpensive recording, however, will be entirely satisfactory to those new to Stokowski's re-working of Wagner's works, but if one wants the real thing, and why wouldn't you, it will pay handsomely to track down the originals to really hear, and appreciate, the difference he brings.
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