Leopold Stokowski conducts Recordings from 1954 & 1973

Includes previously unreleased material.

Everything here, except the Tchaikovsky Symphony, comes from a single concert given in a studio on 5 May 1954 in which the BBC Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Leopold Stokowski. The recording in this disc derives from the Richard Itter Broadcast Collection, and it’s the first I’ve come across not to reside on Lyrita, though of course Cameo Classics is a wholly owned label of the Lyrita Recorded Trust Edition. Perhaps the somewhat dichotomous nature of the material – the Tchaikovsky was first issued on LP in 1979 subsequently on CD - means its natural home is on this imprint.

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Whilst I’d give what few back teeth I have left to hear Stokowski conduct Rubbra’s Fifth Symphony – which he did two years earlier with the BBC at the Maida Vale studios – it’s a real surprise and delight to find him conducting Malcolm Arnold. He’d asked the BBC for suitable scores of young British composers whilst also proposing he play either Bax’s Sixth Symphony (add that to the wish list above) or Tintagel, VW’s Variants on Dives and Lazarus, as well as standard symphonic fare. Of these three Tintagel and Dives were played at the second of the two studio concerts Stokowski gave. He also conducted Rawsthorne’s Symphonic Studies and other beguiling things.

The three works in this disc come from the first of the two concerts. Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 was a tried and tested Stoky favourite and he’d only recently (April 1953) made his second recording of it following his 1947 reading with ‘his Symphony Orchestra’. He was later to record it in 1960 and live performances have also survived, such as this and a Philadelphia from the early 60s. This BBC reading is sufficiently vibrant to excite the ear of the conductor’s admirers - excellent flute, tight pizzicati and plenty of character.

This, however, is his only performance of Arnold’s Beckus the Dandipratt. Arnold thanked the conductor for his ‘wonderful performance’ and indeed it catches the raucous brio as well as the joviality of the music to near-perfection. Though he recorded the Ilya Muromets Symphony this is Stokowski’s only traversal of the Concerto for Coloratura Soprano and Orchestra, a veritable monster of sumptuous colour in which Ilse Hollweg is the intrepid coloratura soloist. Stokowski savours the strands of its luscious coloration and is no hurry to end; it’s one of the longer performances of the work.

The Tchaikovsky performance was given nearly two decades later in 1973 at the Royal Albert Hall in London with the International Festival Youth Orchestra.

Edward Johnson’s comprehensive notes are very helpful and let’s just hope for Rubbra and Bax from this source.  

Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb

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