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Bach all treacled over - you need a sweet tooth
Reviewed in the United States on July 15, 2011
I realise I shall be flying in the face of received opinion here on Amazon but previous reviews have frequently acknowledged that this schmaltzy kind of take on Bach is something you either like or don't; the other factor is that many older listeners grew up with these arrangements as their introduction to a composer who was relatively neglected until the 60's and thus have an understandable nostalgic affection for them. Lastly, it tends to be only those who like the disc in question who review it; I wanted to but found too many obstacles. Anyway, here's my take on this disc:
I am normally a great lover and defender of both Stokowski and of Bach played in traditional or Romantic style but my musical sensibilities revolted when, having ordered this disc with a sense of a treat in store, I played it first - then again a few times at intervals to see if something extraneous like my mood was altering my reaction to it or whether I needed to grow into the idiom. I've tried to think of it as just good fun but I don't actually feel that many of these arrangememts really capture the spirit of the music.
So alas, my response remained the same: this often does Bach no great service. Favorite pieces here are not all well served by Stokowski's lugubrious tempi and fussily alternated orchestration; it's as if you can hear Stokowski as orchestrator thinking, "First a twiddle by the flutes, then a roll on the drums, then a few bars for viola" - it's like watching a carefully rehearsed circus act whereby cute animals do tricks. One reviewer remarks that Stokowski is too conservatively dependent on strings but I hear a lot of trumpets in some tracks - and pretty vulgar they are, too. However, there is one great exception to my doubts, and that is the most famous piece of all - the Toccata and Fugue in D minor of "Fantasia" fame which positively zips along and delivers real thrills.
Lionel Rogg's account on the organ of the mighty Passacaglia in C minor is one of my most treasured discs but here it lumbers rather than strides; similarly the exquisite Sinfonia (here given the twee title "Shepherd's Song") from the Christmas Oratorio is stretched out to over two minutes longer than the lilting tune will bear and just limps along like a three-legged lamb; horrible. Some tracks fare better than others but mostly they are too sentimental and contrived to bring much pleasure to anyone with a liking for Bach's propulsively pulsed music; I don't want to hear Bach played like a Viennese waltz.
There's a certain flashy brilliance in the arrangements and they are very well played by the (presumably for contractual reasons) anonymous scratch band Stokowski cobbled together mainly from the New York Philharmonic but it is not to this disc that I shall turn for the best of either Bach or Stokowski.
The sound is extraordinarily good for 1957: full and rich.