HOLST:  The Planets, Op. 32.  DEBUSSY: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.  The Engulfed Cathedral.  GOULD:  Two Marches for Orchestra (The New China/Red Cavalry).
NBC Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.

CALA 0526 (B/M) (ADD) TT:  77:53
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RIMSKY-KORSAKOV:  Russian Easter Festival Overture, Op. 36.  TCHAIKOVSKY:  Symphony No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 36.  Humoresque, Op. 10 No. 2.  STRAVINSKY:  Firebird Suite (1919 Version). PROKOFIEV:  March from The Love for Three Oranges
CALA 0505 (B/M) (ADD) TT:  75:24
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Here are two valuable and insightful additions to the Stokowski CD discography. The Planets, from a broadcast February 14, 1943, is a fascinating performance that surges forward impetuously, marked by effective portamento -- and eliminating the huge rattling tam-tam smash heard at the conclusion of Mars in Stokowski's 1956 Los Angeles Capitol recording (EMI Classics 67469).  This is among the most exciting recordings of Planets you'll hear, with the NBC Symphony, except for a few minor mishaps, in top form.  Uranus is a roughish romp of great humor. Performance times are fairly similar for the 1943 broadcast and the EMI recording except for Neptune which in the live performance is about three minutes longer.  The unidentified women's' chorus seems too close. Sound is remarkably clear for the vintage although there is little bass - and if an organ was used it is not audible, even in the glissando at the climax of Uranus.

This CD is filled out with other Stokowski specialties, one of the most sensuous Fauns ever to be heard, and his own evocative transcription of The Engulfed Cathedral which he had recorded in Philadelphia in 1930 and would record in stereo for Decca in 1965. The two clever Morton Gould marches are a delight, welcome additions to the Stokowski discography.

The other CD of Russian works consists of RCA recordings made in 1941 and 1942. Russian Easter was first recorded by Stokowski in Philadelphia in 1929. This 1942 recording features baritone Nicola Moscona replacing the trombone for the priest's incantation, a concept repeated in Stokowski's 1953 RCA recording with "his" symphony orchestra. The Maestro's last recording, in 1968 with the Chicago Symphony, reverts to the trombone.  In 1942 Moscona's voice seems to fade in/out more than I prefer; in the 1953 recording he sounds like he was recorded in a super-resonant church.  The Firebird suite (with a truncated finale) is vivid, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, with its odd beginning and a few cuts here and there, is a stimulating listening experience.  One could never say Stokowski was boring!  You can hear his 1928 recording of this symphony with the Philadelphia Orchestra in a superb transfer by Mark Obert-Thorn on Pearl (GEMM CD 9120) and, even though the latest Schwann/Opus doesn't list it, Music & Arts has a live performance from 1965 with the Japan Philharmonic, a set that also includes live performances of the same composer's symphonies 5 and 6 and the 1812 Overture (CD 944).  The miniatures of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev on this disk are welcome; Humoresque here receives the second of five Stokowski recordings -- he recorded two other brief excerpts from Love for Three Oranges but they would not fit onto this well-filled (75:24) CD.

Congratulations to Cala for their Stokowski reissues. May there be many more.

R.E.B. (Feb. 2002)