GHCD 2419 – Leopold Stokowski – Britten, Enescu, Borodin, Debussy, Bauer 1947 & 1949

Jacques Abram (piano), Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York, Leopold Stokowski (conductor)

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Gramophone – April 2015

Rostrum pioneer on a Roll.
Those who attended – or tuned into – the New York Philharmonic Symphony concert for October 25, 1947 will have heard Leopold Stokowski draw every vestige of drama from Sun Splendor by Marion Bauer. This nine-minute thriller could do with a local outing, or at least as many as Britten’s Piano Concerto has so far received, another work featured on the same Guild CD, the New York premiere in fact (November 1949) played by a brilliant pianist who some years later went on to record the work for EMI, Jacques Abram.
He makes the third-movement `Impromptu’ very much his own and imbues the closing `March’ with a sense of chutzpah reminiscent of Prokofiev’s Third Concerto. Murky sound means that Debussy’s The Engulfed Cathedral never fully surfaces, but if all you know of Stokowski in Enescu’s First Romanian Rhapsody is his lavishly upholstered stereo version with the RCA Victor Symphony, be prepared for a shock: in 1947 with the NYPSO, the velvet veil is removed, and the camp fires blaze in a way that the Living Stereo recording barely hints at. Borodin’s Dances of the Polovtsian Maiden are unusual in that the relatively unfamiliar `oriental’ melody that opens the sequence (before ‘Stranger in Paradise’) replaces, in the faster section, the dance with timps and bass drum. The rest is breathlessly fast and for the most part brilliantly played. Passable sound.

MusicWeb International – October 2015

Guild’s conducting-led marque has produced some interesting restorations of late – think of the Sargent and Fistoulari offerings, for example. This Stokowski release most certainly falls into the category of rare and unusual. The performances derive from four concerts given with the Philharmonic-Symphony of New York – the New York Philharmonic in essence – at Carnegie Hall.
Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 was something of a concert favourite of Stokowski’s, one he’d programmed often in Philadelphia. There’s some contradictory information in the Guild booklet with Robert Matthew-Walker’s customarily excellent notes stating a concert date of 1949, which would seem right, and the track details suggesting instead 1947. He certainly recorded it in 1947 with his Symphony Orchestra and again with the RCA Victor orchestra in the early 1960s. I prefer this NYPO version for its sheer vivacity. With the RCA Stokowski takes a full 11:30 or so, a minute and a half slower than this broadcast which is by far the more kinetic and folkloristically pungent. Some succulent phrasing – zesty and full of wind band imitations – is the more vividly realised in Carnegie Hall, though the later recording is clearly to be preferred if quality of sound is your principal requirement. Borodin’s Dances, heard in the conductor’s arrangement, have a surface-y kind of sound but Stokowski’s direction conquers all. This was one of the many kinds of thing he did superbly well and he’s rewarded with huge applause. The Debussy is another Stoky orchestration and richly characterised.
However Marion Bauer’s Sun Splendor will be of more interest. Bauer (1882-1955) wrote this piece around 1936, it seems, though it wasn’t orchestrated until many years later. Stokowski’s 1947 performance in New York is believed to be the world premiere of this orchestrated version. The score remains to be published, which has hardly helped propagate its qualities. It’s a dramatic, even fervent work lasting just shy of nine minutes and is most impressively constructed. Themes are taut and memorable and the orchestration is evocative. It’s something of a find, and makes one wonder why Bauer’s name is not more prominent. The final work is Britten’s Piano Concerto performed by the man was to record it in London with Herbert Menges and the Philharmonia in 1956, namely Jacques Abram (review). He and Stokowski play the 1946 revision in what is the first American broadcast and one of only three occasions that Stokowski conducted the work. The opening Toccata is faster in New York, and so too the March finale. Throughout, Abram proves a splendidly equipped soloist in every respect and the sound quality is perfectly good for the time and location.
Once again then, repertoire, conductor, soloist and the rarity of this live material constitutes a most attractive disc.
Jonathan Woolf