TCHAIKOVSKY:  Aurora's Wedding.  Humoresque.  DEBUSSY:  Clair de Lune.  Night in Granada. ALBENIZ:  Festival in Seville.  NOVACEK:  Perpetual Motion.  SHOSTAKOVICH:  Prelude in E-flat Minor.  RIMSKY-KORSAKOV:  Flight of the Bumble-Bee.  CHOPIN:  Mazurka in B-flat Minor.  Prelude in D Minor.
National Philharmonic Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
CALA CACD 0529 (B/M) (ADD)  TT:  78:29

TCHAIKOVSKY:  The Sleeping Beauty (highlights).LISZT:  Les PrČludes. SIBELIUS:  The Swan of Tuonela.
Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.

CALA CACD 0522 (B/M) (ADD) TT:  76:56

Two major issues for admirers of Stokowski, offering premiere CD issues of two sets of recordings, one made in 1976 when the venerable conductor was 94, his final recording sessions, the other recorded in 1947. Stokowski first recorded music from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty on a set of five 78 rpm disks with an RCA pickup orchestra identified as "His Symphony Orchestra" which is featured on CACD 0522 transferred from a pristine set of vinyl pressings. In 1965 Stokowski made a Decca Phase Four recording with the New Philharmonia Orchestra of a 24-minute suite (SPC 21008, released on CD 448 950, nla). Aurora's Wedding actually is a suite from The Sleeping Beauty, primarily music from Act III.  Stokowski recorded this with a pickup orchestra for RCA in 1953 (LM 1774); the new Cala CD is the first time the 1976 stereo recording has been released in that format.  It is Stokowskian to the extreme and I imagine the Maestro had some say in the engineering which lets one hear every harp note in the score.  It's all quite wonderful in its vivacious, non-balletic way.

This CD is filled out with a group of Stokowski transcriptions called Stokowski Encores  from the Columbia stereo LP (M 34543).  Recorded during the same sessions as the Tchaikovsky, these are performances of incredible tonal beauty. All were recorded previously by Stokowski, Humoresque no less than four times. The earlier mono recordings of all of these could only hint at the rich orchestrations; now we can relish the sumptuous orchestral sonorities. Those who love the conductor will find him at his most outrageous in the two Chopin mazurkas; purists will cringe.  The mood Stokowski evokes in his powerful orchestration of the Shostakovich Prelude is cataclysmic.  The only debit is that this well-filled CD (78:29) couldn't accommodate one other work on the LP, the Act III prelude to Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Ivan the Terrible - one of Stokowski's finest recordings - a work he recorded only once before, in 1939 with the Philadelphia Orchestra.  If you must have this as well, you'll find it on a budget-priced Sony Essential Classics CD of Russian Orchestral Works (SBK62647—well worth having as it also features brilliant performances of other Russian music with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra).

The 1948 Sleeping Beauty is a stunning performance with sound that belies its recording date.  This is Stokowski's only recording of Liszt's symphonic poem Les Préludes. Mitch Miller is the superb English horn soloist in Swan of Tuonela (now great it is to hear this without the LP's surface noise!).  One perhaps could fault RCA for not providing the Maestro with more man/woman power—the orchestra does sound rather small.

Cala's transfers are up to their usual high standard.  Highly recommended!

R.E.B. (Feb. 2002)