Stokowski conducts Bach & Wagner
Dutton CDLX 7337
Classical - Orchestral
Bach: Chaconne (from Partita No. 2 in D minor for solo violin), Preludio (from Partita No. 3 in E major for solo violin), Ein’ feste Burg, Aria 'Air on the G-String' (from Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major), “Little” Fugue in G minor, Arioso (Sinfonia from Cantata No. 156), Sleepers, Awake (Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme), Komm, süsser Tod (Geistliche Gesänge No. 40)
Wagner: Götterdämmerung - Brünnhilde’s Immolation
All transcribed by Stokowski
London Symphony Orchestra
Leopold Stokowski (conductor)
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Review by John Broggio - June 24, 2017
This is one most interesting of the recent Dutton releases, for two principal reasons: it adopts a radical balancing of the orchestra and it is the first hi-resolution release of Stokowski conducting his own famous re-imagining of Bach.
Modern exponents of surround recording of repertoire that isn't explicitly of the cori spezzati school of composition are companies like (in alphabetic order) 2L and Tacet. This licensed Sony recording predates their efforts by a generation and will likely divide listeners now as then as to the musical effectiveness of the myriad of seating positions adopted throughout the recording. In Stokowski, the engineers surely had the most appropriate of conductors with which they could jointly experiment: for all the pejorative jibes levelled at Karajan's meddling with the recording process, he was a steadfast conservative by comparison with these results!
The bulk of the programme offered here is from an LP release entitled "Stokowski conducts Bach - the great transcriptions". Opening with one of the longest unbroken movements of Bach, the Chaconne that has spawned other transcriptions from the likes of Brahms & Busoni, in MCH one immediately notices that the positioning of the orchestra wraps itself around the listener and - in common with film footage of this orchestra & conductor - is not how one would typically expect a modern symphony orchestra to turn out on the stage. The LSO play marvellously with tremendous range of tone and dynamic and clear affection for the general approach.
But that is as nothing compared to the marvels of the closing pages of Wagner's Götterdämmerung re-scored by Stokowski. With this work afforded a noticeably wider dynamic range, the details that Wagner & Stokowski request of the orchestra are that bit more faithfully captured and relayed to us vividly in Dutton's restoration. Perhaps because these ears, although very sympathetic to the Bach a la Stokowski, have spent a substantial amount of time listening to Bach via the HIP school of interpretation, the rubato and moulding of Wagner's music seems more of a natural fit and carries a genuine electricity. By contrast, the Bach in the same orchestral hands is not quite as gripping as one can hear from earlier accounts in Philadelphia. One constant is a feature of intonation between sections that is lacking today; solo brass or wind lines are played ever so slightly against the strings harmonic thinking - it is certainly different from the homogeneous tuning favoured today. Although it is initially distracting, the ear quickly adjusts when the playing and conducting is so persuasive (although the likes of Wagner: Gotterdämmerung - Janowski or Wagner - Fischer are unlikely to be evicted by this account).
As already alluded to, the tapes for this disc are in a far better state than Rachmaninov / Saint-Saëns: Piano Concertos No. 2 - Rubinstein / Ormandy and there is very little to complain about from a sonic perspective, although there are moments when a channel (although with no "active" contribution at the time) sounds like it "drops out" but these are to few to seriously worry about.
Recommended and one can only hope for more from this master of the orchestra.
Copyright © 2017 John Broggio and HRAudio.net