WEBERN: Passacaglia, Op. 1. SIBELIUS: Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63. DEBUSSY-STOKOWSKI: La Soirée dans Grenade. MUSSORGSKY-STOKOWSKI: Pictures at an Exhibition
Philadelphia Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC 372 TT: 79:22

SCHOENBERG: Gurrelieder.
James McCracken, tenor (Waldemar). Gre Brouwenstijn, soprano (Tove). Nel Rankin, mezzo-soprano (Wood Dove). Forbes Robinson, baritone (Peasant). John Lanigan, tenor (Klaus the fool). Alvar Lidell (speaker). Edinburgh Royal Choral Union/London Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
SCHOENBERG: Verklärte Nacht
Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
GUILD GHCD 2388/89 (2 disks) TT: 2:15:32
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BRAHMS: Tragic Overture, Op. 81. Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68. Symophony NO. 2 in D, Op. 73.
Philharmonia Orch/Arturo Toscanini, cond.
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC 373 (2 disks) TT: 1 hr. 38 min.

MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D "Titan." Symphony No. 9 in D minor.
Columbia Symphony Orch/Bruno Walter, cond.
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC 376 (2 disks) TT: 2:14:48

Originally written for piano, Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition has fascinated other composers and there are many arrangements of it for varied performers. Check the ArkivMusic listings to see the many arrangements for ORCHESTRA On that site you will also see the countless other performances including those on piano, organ and other instruments. The score does cry out for rich orchestral textures; Ravel's famous one commissioned by Serge Koussevitzky is the best known and has received countless recordings. Stokowski's version already is available in three fine recordings: Oliver Knussen and the Cleveland Orchestra (REVIEW), José Serebrier and the Bournemouth Symphony (REVIEW), and Mathias Bamert with the BBC Philharmonic (REVIEW). There also is a superb DVD with Serebrier and the National Youth Orchestra of Spain (REVIEW).Now we can hear this remarkable transcription with Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, which he led for three decades. He first conducted it in 1939 and made his RCA recording at that time. This new performance is part of a concert given in the Academy of Music March 16, 1962. This is an important issue for many reasons. It contains the conductor's only recording of music of Webern (Passacaglia), as well as Symphony No. 4 of Sibelius, a work he premiered in America with the same orchestra three decades earlier, recording it for RCA at the same time. La Soirée dans Grenade was recorded twice by Stokowski, in Philadelphia in 1940, and in 1976 with the National Philharmonic. The major work is the unique transcription of Pictures which he recorded in Philadelphia in 1939, with the All American Orchestra in 1942, and in stereo with the New Philharmonia in 1965. Pristine's new remastered version pf the 1962 performance is made from Stokowski's private broadcast master tape courtesy of Edward Johnson (who led the Leopold Stokowski Society for many years—thank you, Mr. Johnson!). We can be certain we now have the best possible audio from these tapes, and the sound surely is very detailed. However, the fact remains that the Academy of Music had dreadfully dry acoustics, and even with XR reprocessing bass is often undefined, and the lack of resonance detracts from Stokowski's usual rich string sonorities. Still, this is a major issue in so many ways that collectors surely will wish to investigate it. Incidentally, more than 20 years ago, Music & Arts issued a CD of a live BBC recording of the Stokowski Pictures with the BBC Symphony from a concert July 23, 1963, stunning performances (including Night on Bare Mountain) with fabulous sound, unfortunately not currently available—look for it—it is a treasure.

Gurrelieder was another Stokowski specialty. He gave the American premiere in Philadelphia in 1932 which was recorded live by RCA. Now we have his performance from the opening of the Edinburgh Festival August 20, 1961; he also led four performances of the massive work in Philadelphia that year—at the same time as he was conducting Turandot at the Met. He was 79 at the time! The is a powerful performance of Gurrelieder, building to a glorious climax. Top-notch soloists, and excellent sonics although it is unfortunate it is not stereo, but we should be thankful for what we have. The second disk is filled with another Stokowski gem, his mono 1952 recording with a small pickup orchestra of Transfigured Night.

The legion of worshippers of Arturo Toscanini have had to deal with many unfortunate problems with his recordings.This remarkable conductor, who gave world premiers of so many important works (including Pagliacci, La Boème, La Fanciulla del West, Turandot), didn't like to record and was unsympathetic to the process. It is unfortunate when NBC formed an orchestra specifically for him in 1937 Toscanini didn't insist they also provide a concert venue appropriate for orchestral performance—which they did not do. The dry Studio 8H was the venue, and all recordings and broadcasts made there suffered as a result. Toscanini broadcasts and performances from Carnegie Hall were, of course, much better, but a majority of the Maestro's recordings suffer from thin strings, limited bass and restricted dynamic range. Toscanini's mastery can be vividly experienced in Pristine's new issue of Brahms (Tragic Overture, symphonies 1 and 2) with the Philharmonia Orchestra recorded September 29, 1952 in Royal Festival Hall. It isn't clear if this was recorded by the BBC or by EMI; Walter Legge was responsible for Toscanini's appearances with the Philharmonia. Audio is very clear, spacious, warm and detailed. Opening and closing announcements are included. These performances have been issued before on CD, but never have they sounded as vivid as they do here.

Bruno Walter's Mahler recordings have a special spot for collectors. He was a friend of the composer, working with him in Hamburg and Vienna. In 1911, Walter gave the premiere of Das Lied von der Erde and the following year conducted the premiere of Symphony No. 9. Walter conducted Mahler often and there are many live broadcasts with various orchestras, including the first recording of Das Lied and Symphony No. 9 in 1938 (REVIEW). In 1961 he made two more recordings of Das Lied, and one of Symphony No. 9, the latter featured in Pristine's 2 CD set, along with the composer's Symphony No. 1 recorded the same year in early Columbia stereo. Walter's interpretation of Symphony 9 has relaxed considerably over the years; the 1961 recording is slower in all movements except the Rondo Burleske. Both recordings were made in Hollywood's American Legion Hall which obviously was a fine recording site. These performances have been important to collectors over the years but now, with Pristine's remarkable technical expertise we can hear these legendary interpretations in fresh, wide-range stereo sound, with full bass and sizzling high frequencies. .

Pristine Audio recordings are available from PRISTINE CLASSICAL

R.E.B. (February 2013)