RIMSKY-KORSAKOV: Scheherazade, Op. 35. (rec. Sept. 22, 1964). TCHAIKOVSKY: Marche slave (rec. live June 15, 1972). Stokowski in rehearsal
London Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
CALA CACD0536 (F) (ADD) TT: 78:40

Leopold Stokowski had a long association with Rimsky-Korsakov's masterpiece. In 1919 he made an acoustic recording with the Philadelphia Orchestra of an abridged version of the fourth movement, and during his career he made five complete recordings of Scheherazade. In 1964 when this performance was recorded he was 82. and nine years later recorded the score again for RCA with the Royal Philharmonic, a recording currently not available. Also missing from the catalog is the 1927 Philadelphia version once available on Biddulph (WHL 010). The 1934 Philadelphia version has been issued on Cala (CACD0521), a CD that also contains other works of Tchaikovsky, Ippoliov-Ivanov and Glazunov. Stokowski, always an innovator in recorded sound (sometimes to the frustratation of engineers!) was excited about recording Scheherazade for London's Phase Four series, working closely with engineers and producer Marty Wargo. Recorded in the warmth of London's Kingsway Hall, the performance is magnificently recorded with a close-up perspective and strong focus on solo instruments. I find it highly effective indeed and consider it to be the finest of all Stokowski recordings of this music. The original CD release (London 417 753) was good, but this skillful new Cala remastering from original tapes is quite superior in every way. Erich Gruenberg is featured violinist in the important solos, immaculate in intonation and fantasy, which cannot be said of his participation in the later RCA recording.

Cala's CD also contains a brief introduction by Stokowski of Tchaikovsky's Marche slave and the performance from a 1972 concert in Royal Festival Hall commemorating the conductor's 92nd birthday, recorded rather coarsely by London/Decca engineers. Of enormous interest to collectors are Stokowski's gentle, kind—but sometimes chiding—comments to the LSO recorded during sessions for the 1964 Scheherzade—a terrific opportunity to hear one of the great conductors of the century in rehearsal.

R.E.B. (November 2003)