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Vaughan Williams: Symphony No. 6 / Tchiakovsky: Romeo and Juliet / Mozart: Symphony No. 35 / Scott: From the Sacred Harp / Weinberger: Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper

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Product Details

  • Orchestra: New York Philharmonic Orchestra
  • Conductor: Leopold Stokowski
  • Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Thomas Jefferson Scott, Pyotr Il'yich Tchaikovsky, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Jaromir Weinberger
  • Audio CD (November 20, 2006)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Cala
  • ASIN: B000222YGO
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #387,803 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By David A. Wend on June 5, 2015
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The Vaughan Williams Sixth Symphony comes from a Carnegie Hall performance given on January 27, 1949, a little more than five months following the U.S. Premiere by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony. Leopold Stokowski performance goes deep into the score and, comparing this performance to the one by Sir Adrian Boult, Stokowski is faster but adheres closer to the to the tempos indicated by the composer. The “faster” tempi works especially well in the Epilogue for me, giving the movement more coherence. The performance of Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet comes from November 1949, and is a powerful reading, as one would expect. The difference with this performance is the ending of the music which quietly concludes leaving out the bombastic final chords. There is evidence to support a quieter ending from a letter by Balakirev to Tchaikovsky where he disapproves of the loud ending and mentions that Rimsky Korsakov’s wife scratched the ending out. Modest Tchaikovsky claimed that his brother had omitted the chords in a revised version of the score but no such alteration has been found.

I was expecting the performance of the Haffner Symphony to be something of a disappointment, as Stokowski infrequently performed Mozart’s music. The performance is brisk and with the orchestra articulating every note so the performance is clear and flows beautifully. The next piece is From the Sacred Harp, which was performed in 1949 and issued on V-Discs. The composer, Thomas Jefferson Scott, provides a brief introduction to the music, which is beautifully performed. The final piece is the Polka and Fugue from Schwanda the Bagpiper that receives a spirited performance but the classic recording by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony will remain my favorite.
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Format: Audio CD
I can't really fathom what soured the lead reviewer on Stokowski's premiere of the RVW Sixth, which has everything going for it except the composer's final revisions. The NY Phil. plays very well and Cala, long the go-to label for Stokowski reissues, has given us fairly vivid mono sound from 1949, remastered without hiss or surface noise. The tempos are not rushed -- the composer himself was notably brisk on the podium compared to later interpreters - and at every turn I was touched by Stokowski's natural, lyrical phrasing. He really was one of the best conductors of any Vaughan Williams work he conducted, and everyone who loves the great Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis should hear one of his great recordings. The sixth is often considered to be RVW's most agonized, even brutal works, but Stokowski doesn't interpret it with the Blitz and wartime horrors in mind.

As I understand it, the controversy surrounding this reading is the fast tempo for the second movement, marked Moderato, but I think it's in keeping with the conductor's less menacing view of the entire work. The Scherzo is also taken at an exhilarating speed, which challenges the orchestra a little but not to the extent that anything goes off the rails. I think what detractors have missed is that Stokowski drives the first three movements as a contrast to the final Epilogue, which he doesn't take as the usual hushed elegy for war's victims but as an intense rhapsody. In any event, this is a real interpretation, far from the cookie-cutter versions that repeatedly pour out of England.

The remaining works also come from Cala's valuable reissue of the late-40s sessions with the NY Phil. that are marked by excellent sound. Stokowski strikes a good balance between his natural charisma and dedication to the score.
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I love the old wizard Stokowski and looked forward to this CD of Vaughan Williams Symphony No. 6 and Stoki's only recordig of a Mozart symphony. It was quite a bitter disappointment when I got it home and actually heard the whole thing.

In the VW, the performance took place before the composer's final work on the score, meaning one of the movements is different from most other performances. That's not a big deal, but Stoki's impatience interpreting the music is a big deal.

I know this was a concert performance and I tried to account for the kinetic energy that develops in a live performance. Still, it's difficult to cast this performance in a positive light with such an overall rapid pace. And if you think the Vaughan Williams was done in a jiffy, wait until you hear the Mozart! Stoki gets through that symphony in about 15 minutes.

Regardless of the merits of the Tchaikovksy and other performances on this CD, it's difficult for me to accept these performances. Stoki didn't rewrite the scores, like he often did, but his unusually rapid allegros make the music nervous as opposed to emotional. In some respects it appears he was trying to get this music over with as quickly as possible, as if he had a big dinner date after the concert.

In addition the late 1940s sound, while clean and clear, does nothing to offset the overall intemperance of the recordings. In fact, it adds a brightness to the stridency of the string tone that I found unappealing. If I was a member of the Stokowski Society, I wouldn't be happy we put this out.

I guess if you go through life long enough and sample enough recordings, you'll find a clinker or two for every conductor. This one certainly fits that mold for Stokowski.
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