Reviews

GHCD 2347 – Leopold Stokowski – Hovhaness, Milhaud, Copland, Serebrier 1942-57

NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Leopold Stokowski

To the CD in our Shop


Fanfare Magazine May / June 2011

This recent release will be of interest to committed Stokowski enthusiasts, as well as to serious admirers of the composers represented; however, more general listeners are referred elsewhere. I write as a devoted – but not unqualified – admirer of the conductor and of some of the composers. As may be gleaned from the headnote, the Hovhaness, Copland, and Milhaud are taken from live broadcasts with the NBC Symphony from the early 1940s; the Serebrier was taken from a live 1957 performance by the Houston Symphony.
Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 1, “Exile,” is one of the earliest of the composer’s works generally available on recording. (Listeners familiar with the often-recounted tale of the composer’s having burned all the music he had composed up to about 1942 in a giant bonfire may not realize that in truth a good deal of that music remains extant, often integrated into later works, sometimes in modified form, sometimes not.) The Symphony No. 1, “Exile,” was composed in 1936, when Hovhaness was 25, to commemorate the massacre of the Armenians by the Turks during the late 1910s. It was first performed for live broadcast in 1939 by the BBC Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Leslie Heward. Its subsequent rendition by the NBC Symphony Orchestra, broadcast late in 1942, marks the first auspicious orchestral performance of the composer’s work in the United States. Stokowski remained a vigorous champion of Hovhaness’s music for the rest of his life. (I recall attending a Hovhaness performance conducted by Stokowski when he was past 90.) Stokie led the premiere in 1955 of Mysterious Mountain, the work that first brought widespread attention to the composer and his music (though its high visibility was largely the result of an RCA Victor recording featuring the Chicago Symphony under Refiner’s direction). Given the chronology, one can perhaps assume that this 1942 performance of the “Exile” Symphony represents the “original version” of the work, and this may be its chief point of interest. In 1961, a score of the symphony was published, but the performance heard here differs significantly from that score, which includes music not heard here, while some of the music heard here does not appear in that score. The version of the work recorded by the Seattle Symphony, conducted by Gerard Schwarz in 1995, conforms to the 1961 score, except for the fact that the central fast movement was replaced by an entirely new (or perhaps one should say, different) movement. What this recording clearly indicates is that the kind of music Hovhaness composed before the legendary bonfire did not differ all that much from the music he wrote afterwards, although perhaps not immediately afterwards. The replacement of the second movement changes the overall character of the work quite significantly, as the original movement, remarkably simplistic, is also vehement and brutal, while the movement that replaced it is much more gentle and intermezzo-like. The other major point of interest is just how freely and spontaneously the orchestra played under Stokowski: Soloists played in an almost improvisatory fashion, the written rhythms serving as little more than suggestions. In tutti passages a sense of rhythmic pulse is often barely discernable. While one may applaud Stokowski’s encouragement of spontaneity in principle, I can’t imagine that any listener would prefer his performance of this work to Schwarz’s, which is more than a mere approximation of the score.
The performance of Copland’s Symphony No. 2, “Short,” is also of considerable historical interest. As with the Hovhaness, this 1944 reading of the 1933 work is also a U.S. premiere, the first performance having taken place several years earlier in Mexico, under the direction of Carlos Chávez. Stokowski was a uniquely gifted conductor, but Copland – especially the Copland of the “Short” Symphony-was really the antithesis of the sort of music at which Stokowski excelled. Its crisp articulation, constantly edgy rhythmic shifts, and spiky gestures were light-years away from the opulent sensuality and emotional immediacy that prompted the maestro’s special gifts. What is also notable is the challenge faced by the NBC Symphony – generally considered one of America’s finest orchestras at the time – in maintaining a coherent sense of ensemble in playing this work. A comparison with the recent Naxos recording, with Marin Alsop leading the Bournemouth Symphony, shows the latter to be far more adept at managing the work’s irregularities-not to mention the London Symphony as conducted by the composer himself. The “Short” Symphony is one of those works from which Copland backed off-at least temporarily – in devising a more populist style, thereby ingratiating himself with the public. Heard today the work – one of Copland’s finest – seems clearly cut from the same cloth as Appalachian Spring, if not quite so “Americana.”
Darius Milhaud, a composer whose fecundity is comparable to that of Hovhaness, is similarly represented on this disc by his Symphony No. l, although his roster of 13 symphonies doesn’t come close to matching Hovhaness’s 67. His first essay in the form, his op. 210, appeared during a period of considerable duress for Milhaud. It was composed in 1939, shortly before the composer, a Jew, fled with his family to the United States to escape the Nazis, though he was forced to leave his parents behind to perish during the German occupation. As if this weren’t enough, he had just suffered his first attack of the severe rheumatoid arthritis that eventually crippled him. So one might expect this to be a work characterized by profound distress. But not from Milhaud. The symphony, in four predominantly fast movements, is largely sunny in spirit, jauntily displaying the congested polytonality that is one of his more consistent characteristics. Annotator Robert Matthew-Walker calls it “one of the greatest French symphonies of the 20th century.” Although it doesn’t face a tremendous amount of competition in that category, I would sooner grant the distinction to one of the symphonies of Henry Barraud (a composer sorely in need of revival and reconsideration). As there is at least one modern recording of the work, this performance will appeal chiefly to those with special interest in either composer or conductor.
The program concludes with the Symphony No. 1 of Jose Serebrier. Serebrier, now in his 70s, has enjoyed a long and active career – primarily as a conductor, but as a composer as well – but one that has followed an unusual course, unlike the path followed by most internationally celebrated conductors. Born and educated in Uruguay, but of Russian-Polish ancestry, he displayed a precocious talent. Coming to the United States while still in his teens, he studied conducting with George Szell, and was discovered by Stokowski when he was 19. The conductor took him on as an apprentice, appointing him assistant conductor of the newly formed American Symphony Orchestra during the early 1960s. Functioning under the radar for many years, Serebrier has lately been the beneficiary of considerable attention for his recent recordings, and his own compositions are now well represented in the catalog. I have long been an admirer of his Symphony No. 2, “Partita” – and would not hesitate to describe it as the most satisfying Latin American-flavored work known to me – although none of his other works have impressed me as deeply.
Serebrier completed his Symphony No. 1 in 1956, when he was 18, and Stokowski conducted the premiere the following year. (The amusing story of how this came about is recounted in the liner notes.) The work consists of a single movement, beginning slowly in the lower strings in a manner reminiscent of the opening of Creston’s Second Symphony, and immediately exhibits the character of a passacaglia, although I don’t believe that it hews strictly to the principles of that genre. A theme is introduced and developed through a dissonant counterpoint that calls Hindemith to mind. What is most interesting about the work is the way this theme evolves from a somber, dissonant context, gradually becoming increasingly straightforward and outgoing, finally ending in diatonic triumph. The performance by the Houston Symphony does the work justice, but is far outclassed in every respect by the Bournemouth Symphony recording released recently by Naxos, under the composer’s own direction. Readers who are intrigued by Serebrier are encouraged to pursue his many recordings, as well as the readily available information about his unconventional but highly productive career.
Walter Simmons

Gramophone, January 2010

Recent months have witnessed a positive deluge of CDs devoted to the art of Leopold Stokowski, especially significant give the unfortunate demise of the Stokowski Society … Remarkably characterful is a programme put out by Guild where Stokowski – ever the maverick explorer – conducts 20th-century symphonies. The least successful here is a rather tentative performance of Copland’s Second, or Short, Symphony, whereas the First Symphonies of Alan Hovhaness (1936) and Darius Milhaud (1939), both of them strong pieces that Stokowski and his wartime NBC Symphony respond well to, fare far better.

Perhaps the programme’s most remarkable item is the 18-minute, single-movement First Symphony by the teenage Jose Serebrier – a Stokowski protege – which, although cast rather in the shadow of Shostakovich (or so it seems to these ears) leaves a powerful impression. On that occasion Stokowski conducted the Houston Symphony Orchestra.
Rob Cowan


BBC Music Magazine December 2009

Stokowski makes strong Gases for each of these symphonies, heard here in New York, US, or world Premiere Performances. Sound in the Hovhaness (1942) is particularly bright and clear.

PERFORMANCE

RECORDING


American Record Review October 2009

This disc presents Leopold Stokowski in live performances of four, mostly unfamiliar, modern symphonies: three recorded during the Second World War with the NBC Symphony, the other with the Houston Symphony in 1957. All the performances were premières of one kind or another. They have been remastered from second­generation transcriptions, so purchasers will not expect the Sound to be of the Best, even for the period, but on the whole they sound well and give a vivid idea of the performances themselves, the main drawback being that the result is rather shallow and dry.

Alan Hovhaness’s official First Symphony, Exile, composed in 1936, remained one of the most powerful of the eventually 67 symphonies he was to compose. Inspired by the Armenian massacres in Turkey during the First World War, it. is highly atmospheric and has a more dynamic character than many of his later, more contemplative works. It also, incidentally, vividly testifies to the strong influence of Sibelius an the young Hovhaness – an influence clearly to be heard here that became more sublimated and personalized as his music matured. This 1942 broadcast was the work’s US Premiere (the frst Performance had been by the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Leslie Heward in 1939). It should be noted that the recording here is of the Symphony’s original form, with a violent central Scherzo entitled `Conflict’: Hovhaness later replaced this with a quieter Grazioso movement, which is the one that is heard in more modern recordings, such as Gerard Schwarz’s with the Seattle Symphony an Delos. As might be expected, Stokowski makes the most of this thrusting, angry movement and invests the finale, with its triumphant and aspirational brass Chorales, with full splendour.

Darius Milhaud’s First Symphony had been commissioned by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and completed in late 1939 after the outbreak of the war, which with the fall of France forced Milhaud to leave his aged parents (who later perished) and seek refuge in the LISA. This work is rarely heard nowadays but is very much an expression of its time and perhaps one of Milhaud’s most deeply felt symphonies, contrasting the lyric pastoral feelings of the opening movement with a deepening martial strain, which in the march-like finale expresses clear defiance and hope in final victory. Stokowski’s 1943 performance, the work’s New York premiere, has a tremendous sense of conviction that clearly arises from the fact of its taking place at a difficult juncture in the war, and sympathy for the composer’s situation. The performance of Copland’s Short Symphony comes from the following year and surprisingly, perhaps (given that it’s the best­known work on this programme), this was its US première, 11 years after it was composed. The world première had been given in Mexico City under Carlos Chávez in 1934, but previously advertised North American performances had been cancelled owing to the work’s extreme rhythmic difficulties, as they then seemed. We now regard this score as one of the supreme classics of US neo-Classicism, and one of Copland’s most impressive works as a sheer feat of composition. The dry acoustic of this recording makes it seem even more abstract than more recent renditions, such as Michael Tilson Thomas’s excellent 1996 recording with the San Francisco Symphony, but Stokowski can show even Tilson Thomas a thing or two in the sheer verve of his rhythmic pointing and dovetailing of instrumental entries in a score for which rhythm and a tensile, sinewy Klnagfarbenmelodie are the vital necessities of life.

José Serebrier, better known, of course, as a conductor, has composed five symphonies to date – his Symphony No. 1 was written at the age of 16 shortly after he had arrived in the USA from his native Uruguay to study at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. By a stroke of luck Stokowski took it up at short notice, having had to abandon a hoped-for premiere of Ives’s Fourth Symphony, and gave the first performance with the Houston Symphony, as heard on this disc. Despite coming from a decade later than the other recordings the sound, though a bit brasher, is not much of an improvement, but it’s quite good enough to allow us to judge the work. It’s a gaunt, rather angry piece, cast in a single movement, extending the passacaglia principle to the continuous development of its material through three sections: a very impressive symphonic début for such a young composer, who was very lucky to secure such a well­performed premiere.

As noted above, all four performances come from live concerts, and are followed by warm audience applause, but it’s only in the Serebrier that there is much in the way of audible audience noise. There are highly informative booklet notes from our own Robert Matthew-Walker; altogether the disc must surely be a mandatory purchase for Stokowski enthusiasts.
Calum MacDonald


CRC- CLASSICAL RECORD COLLECTOR AUTUMN 2009

This very well-planned disc, which contains four brief symphonies, adds to our, knowledge of Stokowski as superlative and sympathetic exponent of orchestral scores written during his long lifetime. He was a notable champion of contemporary music. Even in old age and he had extraordinary and unerring mastery of diverse composing styles, from Vaughan Williams to 12·note Schonberg.

Copland. Hovhaness and Milhaud all left extensive recordings of their own works. to provide posterity with clear indications in :sound of how they wanted their creations to be played. While, José Serebrier (b.1938) is currently engaged in a similar exercise. To have a great interpreter’s imprint on these composers’’ scores is not to provide competition, but a different: kind of insight. Robert Matthew-Walker’s long and. informative, insert note tells us;, for example, that Milhaud found the performance of his First Symphony on this disc to be very powerful.

All the recordings are live: the three NBC ones show Stokowski managed somehow to find more life in the sound of the notorious Studio 8H than did Toscanini – each has a slightly different characteristic, but all are very good For their day.The 1957 Houston recording, though satisfactory, is not a great deal superior.

The music of Alan Hovhaness has its fervent admirers; and Matthew-Walker tells us that when Leslie Hewrd conducted the first UK performance of the three-year-old First Symphony in 1939 he found it a “, Powerful virile score” powerful. In its urgent, insistent style., with jagged rhythm and highly individual orchestration it makes a great effect in the hands. of Stokowski and the magnificently virtuosic NBC SO. Milhaud’s First Symphony has four contrasting movements; the second and fourth strong and vigorous. are set off by a typically piquant first movement, and a beautiful (and sensitively played) Third. Stokowski’s very tough approach to Copland’s Second Symphony is totally appropriate for this highly concentrated and technically difficult score: but here the NBC SO’s usually immaculate ensemble is occasionally slightly ragged.

Stokowski took over Serebrier’s symphony at short notice when the Houston orchestra found Ives’s Fourth Symphony impossible to play. But the replacement, an astonishingly mature work for a.17-year·old, must itself have been demanding in its complex pithy quality and its varied instrumental textures. Stokowski’s total commitment to the work is evident in a strikingly vivid first performance.
Alan Sanders

An easy by José Serebrier in which he discusses his symphony, its background and stokowski’s premiere performance, is now on CRC; website www.classicrecordcollector.com

The story behind my First Symphony

José Serebrier

The story behind my First Symphony goes back to the last years in my home town of Montevideo, Uruguay, before I went to the United States to study at Tanglewood and at the Curtis Institute of Music. I was aged 16 when I read an announcement in the press about a composition contest for an orchestral work. The winning piece would be played by the national symphony orchestra, known as OSSODRE. I thought that if I won, perhaps they would let me conduct it, which was then my main interest. For some reason the announcement was made at the very last moment, with only a couple of weeks’ notice. I worked day and night on this, my first full orchestral work. Inspired by Thomas Mann’s Doctor Faustus, which fascinated me at the time, The Legend of Faust was to be an overture-fantasy in the mould of Tchaikovsky’s works of the same genre. To my amazement, I won the competition, but the task of conducting this 24-minute overture was given to a famous guest conductor, Eleazar de Carvalho, who had been Koussevitzky’s pupil alongside Leonard Bernstein. It was a wonderful coincidence because I had already been accepted as his conducting pupil at Tanglewood for later that summer, while at the same time I would be studying composition with Aaron Copland.

That first summer at Tanglewood was idyllic. Copland’s interest in my music, sparked by Virgil Thomson whom I had met briefly in Montevideo, gave me much needed encouragement in composing. Copland was a great teacher, especially in matters of orchestration. We also often discussed his own compositions, especially his latest works, and I conducted a few of them at the time, including his second and third symphonies, in his presence.

At the end of the six-week summer experience I went to New York for a month, to await the start of my first year at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. During those four weeks I wrote my first symphony. It was my second orchestral work. The symphony, together with my earlier saxophone quartet, went on to win the BMI (Broadcast Music Incorporated) Award in 1956. After discussing it with Copland, I had decided to write a one-movement symphony, with connected multiple sections in different speeds, since I felt that the idea of a multiple-movement symphony of largely unrelated sections no longer applied in the middle of the twentieth century.

Anyway, that was the way I felt at the time. I had had very little exposure to new music, except for the festival of American music I had organised in Montevideo the year before, in which I included everything from Varèse to Cage. They both fascinated me. Curiously, I hadn’t discovered Ives just yet.

Winning the BMI competition meant I got to know some of their composers, especially Alan Hovhaness. Oliver Daniel (who wrote a book about Stokowski) was in charge of classical music at BMI, and he never stopped talking about Hovhaness, and was constantly promoting his music. The three of us often had lunch together in New York, and I got to know many of Alan’s works. I admired the fact that he had had the audacity to destroying all of his earlier compositions, apparently hundreds of them, when he decided to change styles, and refused to discuss his earlier works.

Starting again, he was writing music non-stop. He and Milhaud, along with Villa-Lobos, may have been the most prolific composers of the twentieth century.

In the following year, 1957, while walking towards the Curtis Institute of Music, I bumped into a cellist, and my score fell to the floor. Harvey Wolf was on his way to the airport to join the Houston Symphony. He instinctively asked if he could carry the score along to show to Leopold Stokowski, who had just hired him as the last cellist in the orchestra. I had another copy, so I agreed, not expecting anything from this gesture. Few conductors would take such an idea seriously. Leopold Stokowski called a few days later. There was this highly accented voice telling me: “We tried doing the premiere of the Charles Ives Fourth Symphony but it proved impossible. Orchestra can’t get past first bars. Need a premiere. Press invited: Time magazine, Life, UP, AP.

We do your symphony premiere instead. Please bring music. Rehearsals start in two days.

The premiere of my first symphony took place in Houston on 4 November 1957. But another, more momentous event took place that evening: news from Soviet Russia revealed that USSR had launched the first man-made object in space, the Sputnik.

Music and art therefore disappeared from the news for some weeks – although the symphony was a big success with the public and the critics. The interviews with Time and Life magazines never came out.

In 1962 Stokowski gave the New York premiere of my Elegy for Strings and in 1963 the world premiere of my Poema elegiaco to open the Carnegie Hall season. The

Guild recording of symphonies premiered by Stokowski has many coincidences.

While I never studied with Darius Milhaud, I met him several times in the United States. He seemed charmed by the fact that I was born in Uruguay, and in our long chats he often became nostalgic about his time in Brazil. He noticed that in two of my works, the Piano Sonata and my Symphony No. 2, Partita, I used Brazilian rhythms, and seemed to enjoy the idea. I was very surprised he knew them. The Partita had been recently recorded by the Louisville Orchestra, and he already had the recording.

It was with great surprise and joy that I learned of the release on CD of the Stokowski premiere of my First Symphony, taken from the original broadcast so long ago.

Incredibly, it coincided with my own first actual studio recording of this early work for Naxos, to be released in August 2010. This is the central piece in a CD that includes the first recording of Nueve, a concerto for double-bass and orchestra featuring the incomparable Gary Karr, for whom I wrote it a long time ago when I was the composer-in-residence of the Cleveland Orchestra in George Szell’s time.

This rather unusual concerto includes reciting of poems, an integral part of the score, performed with amazing artistry by Simon Callow, an off-stage chorus, jazz drummers, musicians in the audience, etc. The CD also includes one of my most recent works, Music for an Imaginary Film, which could not be more different from Nueve.


ResMusica.com quotitien de la Musique Classique Sunday August 30th 2009

Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000) : Symphonie n°1 « Exile Symphony ». Darius Milhaud (1892-1974) : Symphonie n°1 op. 210. Aaron Copland (1900-1990) : Symphonie n°2 « Short Symphony ». José Serebrier (né en 1938) : Symphonie n°1. NBC Symphony Orchestra, Houston Symphony Orchestra, direction : Leopold Stokowski. 1 CD Guild Historical GHCD2347. Code barre : 795754234725. Enregistré entre décembre 1942 et janvier 1944 au NBC Studio 8-H, New York City, et le 4 novembre 1957 au Music Hall, Houston. ADD [mono]. Notices unilingues (anglais) excellentes. Durée : 72’51.

À peine avions-nous commenté une excellente production Music & Arts mettant en valeur Stokowski dans trois symphonies de Chostakovitch, que nous recevions ce CD Guild où le légendaire maestro s’illustre dans quatre symphonies qui lui sont contemporaines et, parce qu’elles sont des raretés, rendent ce disque particulièrement attrayant, et en tout cas, l’un des plus importants du catalogue Guild Historical. Ces symphonies sont suffisamment courtes pour tenir toutes les quatre sur un seul CD, ce qui signifie qu’elles expriment ce qu’elles ont à dire de manière concise – celle d’Aaron Copland s’intitulant d’ailleurs Short Symphony n’étant pas la moins complexe.

Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) est réputé avoir dirigé plus de deux mille créations mondiales ou premières en Amérique tout au long de sa carrière, et pourtant il est rare de disposer sur CD commercial de quatre de ses créations publiques d’œuvres peu représentées en concert. Ce disque est donc pratiquement unique en son genre. Ces quatre partitions ont un rapport plus ou moins direct avec l’Amérique : Alan Hovhaness et Aaron Copland sont Américains ; José Serebrier est Uruguayen naturalisé Américain et écrivit sa Symphonie n°1 à New York ; Darius Milhaud est Français, mais sa Symphonie n°1 fut commandée par Frederick Stock pour son Orchestre Symphonique de Chicago.

Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000), d’origine arménienne et écossaise, composa sa Symphonie n°1 « Exile Symphony » en 1936, première d’une longue série de 67, en mémoire de l’extermination d’Arméniens par les Turcs vingt ans auparavant durant la Grande Guerre ; les titres des mouvements sont suffisamment éloquents : Lament, Conflict, Triumph. L’œuvre, d’intonation souvent orientale, est d’un langage direct ; créée en Angleterre en 1939, elle reçoit ici sa première américaine le 6 décembre 1942 à New York, exécution d’autant plus précieuse qu’elle présente la version originale de l’œuvre : la deuxième partie, Conflict, sera complètement réécrite par après. L’hommage d’Alan Hovhaness envers le chef d’orchestre est suffisamment éloquent : « Leopold Stokowski a été un miracle dans ma vie. Il fut le premier chef à exécuter une de mes œuvres majeures aux États-Unis … il n’y a pas de mots pour exprimer ma gratitude envers ce grand musicien et ce grand homme. »

La Symphonie n°1 op. 210 de Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), première d’une série de douze dont on peut trouver une excellente intégrale chez CPO, fut composée en 1939 pour honorer une commande de Frederick Stock et son Orchestre Symphonique de Chicago dont on fêtait le 50e anniversaire. Cette partition poignante qui permit à Milhaud de se réfugier aux USA, est l’une de ses plus belles réussites ; Stokowski en donna la première exécution new yorkaise qui nous est offerte ici, le 21 mars 1943.

La musique d’Aaron Copland (1900-1990), souvent associée aux vastes espaces américains en une expression plutôt directement accessible, ne craint pas d’être parfois d’une complexité redoutable : c’est le cas de cette Short Symphony (1933), la deuxième de trois dans le catalogue du compositeur, qui malgré sa brièveté (15 minutes), donna du fil à retordre non seulement à Copland qui mit deux années à l’élaborer, mais aussi à des chefs tels que Koussevitzky et Stokowski qui durent à plusieurs reprises en annuler l’exécution faute de répétitions suffisantes. L’œuvre qui flirte avec le sérialisme fut finalement créée à… Mexico en décembre 1934 sous la baguette de Carlos Chávez ; toutefois Stokowski, persévérant, finit par en donner la première aux USA le 9 janvier 1944, exécution proposée ici.

José Serebrier (né en 1938) ne nous est certes pas inconnu, puisqu’il fut l’assistant chef d’orchestre de Stokowski, notamment dans les premiers enregistrements légendaires d’œuvres symphoniques de Charles Ives chez CBS. Et c’est précisément suite à l’impossibilité de créer, le 4 novembre 1957 à Houston, la Symphonie n°4 de Ives, que Stokowski choisit en lieu et place la Symphonie n°1 en un mouvement (1956) de Serebrier, écrite à l’âge de 17 ans par un compositeur encore inconnu à l’époque… Si la partition, sorte de vaste passacaille, ne peut être comparée aux trois œuvres matures précédentes, elle est toutefois digne d’intérêt, et en tout cas elle est le témoignage d’un Stokowski toujours soucieux à 75 ans de découvrir de jeunes talents musicaux. Michel Tibbaut

Automated Free English Translation.

Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000): Symphony n°1 “Exiles Symphony”. Darius Milhaud (1892-1974): Symphony n°1 COp 210. Aaron Copland (1900-1990): Symphony n°2 “Symphony Shorts”. Jose Serebrier (born in 1938): Symphony n°1. NBC Symphony Orchestrated, Houston Symphony Orchestra, direction: Leopold Stokowski. 1 CD Guild Historical GHCD2347. Code bar: 795754234725. Recorded between December 1942 and January 1944 in NBC Studio 8-H, New York City, and on November 4, 1957 in Music Hall, Houston. ADD [mono]. Unilingual notes (English) excellent. Duration: 72 ‘ 51.

Hardly we had commented on an excellent production Music & Arts emphasizing Stokowski in three symphonies of Chostakovitch, which we receive this CD Guild where legendary maestro illustrates itself in four symphonies which are contemporary for him and, because they are scarcities, make this disc particularly attractive, and in any case, one of most important of the catalogue Guild Historical. These symphonies are sufficiently short to hold all the four on only one CD, which means that they express what they have to say in a concise way – that of Aaron Copland being entitled Short Symphony besides not being the least complex.

Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) is famous to have directed more than two thousand world creations or first to America throughout its career, and yet it is rare to have on commercial CD of four of its public creations works little represented in concert. This disc is thus practically single in its kind. These four partitions have a more or less direct relationship with America: Alan Hovhaness and Aaron Copland are American; Jose Serebrier Uruguyan is naturalized American and wrote her Symphony n°1 in New York; Darius Milhaud is French, but its Symphony n°1 was ordered by Frederick Stock for its Symphony orchestra of Chicago.

Alan Hovhaness (1911-2000), of Armenian and Scottish origin, composed its Symphony n°1 “Exile Symphony” in 1936, first of long series of 67, in memory of the extermination of Armenians by the Turks twenty years before during the Great War; the titles of the movements are sufficiently eloquent: Spangle, Conflict, Triumph. Work, of often Eastern intonation, is of a direct language; created in England in 1939, it receives here its first American on December 6, 1942 in New York, execution all the more invaluable as it presents the original version of work: the second part, Conflict, will be completely rewritten by afterwards. The homage of Alan Hovhaness towards the leader is sufficiently eloquent: “Leopold Stokowski was a miracle in my life. There was the first chief to carry out one of my major works in the United States… it are no words to express my gratitude towards this large musician and this great man.”

The Symphony n°1 COp 210 of Darius Milhaud (1892-1974), first of a series of twelve which one can find an excellent integral at CPO, was made up in 1939 to deliver an order with Frederick Stock and its Symphony orchestra of Chicago which one celebrated the 50e birthday. This poignant partition which made it possible Milhaud to take refuge in the USA, is one of its more great successes; Stokowski gave of it the first execution new yorkaise which is offered to us here, on March 21, 1943.

The music of Aaron Copland (1900-1990), often associated with vast American spaces in an expression rather directly accessible, does not fear to be sometimes of a frightening complexity: it is the case of these Shorts Symphony (1933), the second of three in the catalogue of the type-setter, which in spite of his brevity (15 minutes), gave wire to retordre not only with Copland which spent two years to work out it, but also with chiefs such as Koussevitzky and Stokowski which had on several occasions to cancel of it the execution for lack of sufficient repetitions. The work which flirte with the serialism was finally created with… Mexico City in December 1934 pennies the rod of Carlos Chávez; however Stokowski, persevering, ends up giving the first of it to the USA on January 9, 1944, execution suggested here.

Jose Serebrier (born in 1938) is certainly not unknown for us, since he was the assistant leader of Stokowski, in particular in the first legendary recordings of symphonic works of Charles Ives at CBS. And it is precisely following impossibility of creating, on November 4, 1957 in Houston, the Symphony n°4 of Ives, that Stokowski chooses in place and place the Symphony n°1 in a movement (1956) of Serebrier, written at the 17 years age by a still unknown type-setter at the time… If the partition, left vast passacaille, cannot be compared with three preceding mature works, it is however worthy of interest, and in any case it is the testimony of Stokowski always concerned at 75 years to discover musical young talents.


MusicWeb International Tuesday June 30 2009

In-depth musical enjoyment …

Guild’s Historical label raises expectations of the esoteric. Their rarities encompass broadcast live recording sources and, less frequently, arcane repertoire. This disc combines the two facets. Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) is the unifying factor. His adventurous mind ranged far and wide over revivals of the then unfashionable (Mahler symphonies) to introducing the works of young or recherché composers.

He was a staunch and practical friend to Hovhaness whose fully fledged Exile Symphony is featured here in its 1942 US premiere. The BBC had given its world premiere with the ill-fated Leslie Heward in 1939. The recording is clear and clean allowing for some coughs and shuffles. The brass are pretty much present and full-on. This original version can be compared with the revision which appears on a long deleted Delos CD under Gerard Schwarz. I was taken with the original which while including many Hovhaness hallmarks also sports a stronger narrative continuum than we may be accustomed to from this composer. Futile, I know, but I do wonder what we lost in his much-recounted 1940s bonfire of a barrow-load of his youthful Sibelian effusions. The movements are: Lament, Conflict, Triumph. The barking brass recall the RVW music for Apollyon in Pilgrim’s Progress but the Triumph is crowned with a weighty paean suggestive of the grand operas of the Russian people. The work arose from the Scottish-Armenian-American composer’s reflections on an event which continues to resonate internationally – the massacre of Armenians in Turkey in 1916. It’s a fine statuesque work and truly vivid in this superbly committed performance.

Milhaud’s little First Symphony carries in its first movement an innocent and intricate charm, pastoral beauty and buoyancy. The rest of the work is unafraid of dissonance and darting conflict. It is sometimes touched – as in the finale – by a neo-classical flightiness. Copland’s Short Symphony is his first of more than three in that genre – so maintains Robert Matthew-Walker in his provocative liner-note. He counts the three numbered symphonies of 1924, 1933 and 1946 and interleaves the Dance Symphony (1930) and Symphonic Ode (1929) with the Short Symphony and Connotations (1962) and Inscape (1967). Its spiky angularity cannot conceal the many incidences of ripe Copland DNA. There are also some moments of Roy Harris-like heroism as at 3:38 onwards in I. The relationship of those stabbing brass note-cells to the fate motif from Beethoven’s Fifth is also to be noted. The filtered and refracted premonitions of El Salon Mexico can be heard in the final Fast movement.

We know of Jose Serebrier as assistant to Stokowski, as a composer and a very individual conductor. Various CDs attest to his baton-mastery: his Rimsky Scheherazade on Reference, his wonderful Janacek and Chadwick and a truly radiant and miraculously paced Glazunov Fourth Symphony for all time from Warner. While the other three works have the NBC Symphony Orchestra, the single movement Serebrier First Symphony, written at the astonishing age of sixteen, is with the Houston Symphony – the orchestra which Stokowski was to conduct in the premiere of Hovhaness’s Symphony No. 2 Magic Mountain. The Serebrier is raucously uproarious, explosive and dissonant and then chastened and scorched – smoking back into an inert state. The symphony is troubled beyond the composer’s years but discovers a remarkable plateau of singing radiance from 15:32 onwards to the close. In 1962 Stokowski conducted the New York premiere of Serebrier’s Elegy for Strings and the year after that the world premiere of his Poema Elegiaco.

More than history. More than time-travelling. In-depth vivid musical enjoyment in unhackneyed repertoire. A glimpse of Stokowski the champion of the perceived peripheral.
Rob Barnett


Audiophile Audition Wednesday June 24, 2009

Every performance of “first” symphonies here (excepting the Copland) marks a World, United States, or New York premier.

This album should have borne the rubric “Stokowski Firsts,” since every performance of “first” symphonies (excepting the Copland) marks a World, United States, or New York premier. The old joke used to be that Stokowski “led more first performances and fewer second performances” than any other conductor. The music embraces the years 1932-1957, their commonality in Stokowski, who took “foreign” nationals’ works and gave them their first realizations in the “melting pot” of the U.S.

The exotic sounds of Armenian-American Alan Hovhaness are well familiar to lovers of his Mysterious Mountain or his several “whale” pieces. His 1936 Symphony No. 1 (6 December 1942) had been premiered in England in 1939 under Leslie Heward, who called the work “a powerful, virile score.”  In three “programmatic” movements entitled Lament, Conflict, and Triumph, perhaps reflective of the troubled times of its origin. Bass clarinet and harp dominate the languorous first movement, which occasionally breaks out in violent spasms. Four brass chords mark the Conflict movement, the tympani rushing at us in powerful rolls. A kind of animal, jungle energy chugs along, with twittering flute and more, ominous tympani rolls. The so-called Triumph endures several trials to achieve its glorious moment. What does emerge is the Hovhaness gift for diaphanously contrapuntal textures and hymnal, chorale themes that connect Eastern and Western modes and doxologies. The brass and battery sections of the NBC have their field day, and all concerned have enjoyed this American premier with a brio and sonic panache we call the “Stokowski sound.”

Darius Milhaud’s 1939 First Symphony came from a commission from the Chicago Symphony and Desiree Defauw, and Milhaud’s journey to the U.S. saved his life from Nazi aggression. The music opens (21 March 1943) with an airy Pastoral that does move to dark places as the evolving spirit loses its innocence. Moving with a kind of idee fixe–in the manner of Berlioz–the dominant motif refuses to succumb totally to the disturbing forces around it. Having ended on an uneasy F Major, the shattering metrics of the ensuing Tres vif A-flat Minor second movement hardly come as a surprise. Fierce, demonic energies vie for dominance, the various choirs of the orchestra in concert or antagonistic to each other, a sort of Parisian Le Sacre du Printemps with the gloves off. The Tres modere slow movement breathes a darkly hued chorale, a long melismatic affair dominated by the clarinet. The sheer number of colors would have immediately appealed to Stokowski: harp, gong, cellos in four parts, tympani, pizzicato double-basses–it often sounds like a Villa-Lobos lament for the Amazon. Chorale and savage dance merge for the Final: Anime, almost a Dies Irae cross fertilized by an eccentric, English jig in 12/8. The rugged dance eventually wins the tug of war, much to the bemused delight of the Studio 8-H audience.

Copland’s “official” 1933 Second Symphony makes considerable demands on the technical proficiency of its executants. Here (9 January 1944, a broadcast performance), its semi-serial procedures find the requisite bravura and enthusiasm in Stokowski and the NBC players, who handle the intricate rhythmic shifts with smooth but tense efficiency. The stark, often “wasteland” sensibility of the music makes it a perfect counterpart for a bleak poem by T.S. Eliot.  A clarinet takes us to the last movement: Fast: a driven, manic music that, in spite of the fractious, Stravinsky influence, still alludes to El Salon Mexico.

The scene switches to Houston, 4 November 1957, and Stokowski gives the world premier of the first symphony by the seventeen-year-old, Uraguayan composer Jose Sere brier (b. 1938), now famous himself as a conductor directly in the Stokowski stamp. A through-composed, one-movement work, the Symphony establishes a moody, gloomy bass line that serves as a passacaglia or ricercare, while a motif in ¾ acts as a dance-like countermelody. Given its similarity to a Rondo, the work might be a distant cousin of Debussy’s Jeux. Serebrier excels in polyrhythmic writing for the woodwinds, and his battery section bursts out flamboyantly, like a monstrous South American macaw. A decidedly lyric element, rather melancholy, persists, so the work “belongs” to the Villa-Lobos “school” as well, despite the sojourns into Webern and serialism. Given the precocity of the piece, we must liken Serebrier to the Mendelssohn example of a fully formed mastery at seventeen. That Stokowski provides every form of musical and artistic stimulus is now ancient history.
Gary Lemco


Alan Hovhaness Web Site

Guild has released an important historical CD, comprising significant recordings from the voluminous Leopold Stokowski archive: four mid-20th century symphonies, all taken from live radio broadcasts and each of them a premiere of some kind. Both the Hovhaness Exile Symphony and Copland Short Symphony are US premieres, the Milhaud Symphony No.1 is a New York premiere, and the José Serebrier Symphony No.1, composed when Serebrier was just 17 years old, is a world premiere.  The latter work went on to win the precocious Uruguayan a BMI award in 1957 (although Serebrier has since become more famous as a conductor).
The biggest eye-catcher here will likely be the US premiere of Copland’s 2nd Symphony (given on 23 March 1943), but perhaps the Hovhaness Exile Symphony is more of a unique historical document.  The original designations for the three movements were Lament, Conflict and Triumph, reflecting the plight of exiled Armenians during the 1930s.  In 1970 the composer replaced the central Conflict with a new Grazioso movement, and re-titled the outer ones with non-programmtic tempo markings, somewhat watering down the symphony’s original political connotations. Thus, this is likely to be the only available testimony of the work’s original 1936 conception, and consequently an unexpected boon for Hovhanophiles.
As Robert Matthew-Walker’s well-researched booklet notes point out, Stokowski gave more than 2,000 premieres of one kind or another.  His enthusiasm for young, up-and-coming composers seemed almost boundless. Many composers’ careers gained huge momentum from Stokowski’s championing and they were generous in their gratitude to him.  In a 90th birthday tribute, Hovhaness later wrote “Leopold Stokowski has been a miracle in my life and there are no words to express my thankfulness to this great man”.  A much earlier (and privately written) Hovhaness tribute relating to the maestro can be read on our website here.  Of course Hovhaness’ biggest early success was his 1955 Mysterious Mountain symphony, premiered by Stokowski when making his debut with the Houston Symphony, and also heard over the national radio. It was subsequently recorded by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony.
This disc clocks in at a generous 72:51 and the standard of remastering is high.  Of course no amount of present-day digital audio wizardry can purge all the limitations of 1940s recording technology, but we are, in fact, hearing these live recordings with more clarity than the thousands of radio listeners across the USA who tuned in all those years ago.  Guild Historical are to be congratulated on such a superb release.  The unearthing of these forgotten performances after more than half a century represents an important addition not just to the Stokowski recorded legacy on CD but also that of American symphonic playing and broadcasting in the ’40s and  ’50s.
Audiophile completists of the four composers featured will be ordering this disc as a matter of course, but at just GBP 4.60 and USD 6.81, this CD is remarkable value for the curious too.
Marco Shirodkar