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I would not naturally have associated Stokowski with Schumann's Second Symphony, the longest work on this disc. It is a rather enigmatic, disturbed (and disturbing) piece, and easily the most introspective in the canon, despite the gestures of optimism in the finale. In the event, though, Stokowski is an admirable guide to its mysteries, and I felt that, under his tutelage, I now understand it better.

For me, it is the inner movements that most alert me to the fact that Schumann is indeed a master musician. The delightfully unpredictable rhetoric of the scherzo -- the phrase that irreverently comes to mind is 'thinking man's Mendelssohn' -- is wonderfully done, its quirky wit perfectly conveyed. But the glory of the performance, and, I think, the work, is the adagio espressivo [listen -- track 9, 0:02-1:13]. Stokowski plays it with a burnished majesty that suggests Brahms, and one could do much worse than accept the slight 'generation gap' this enlightening approach entails. Suffice it to say I was convinced, and now pay more respect to the work as a whole than I have in the past.

Before reading the notes, I had not realised that Haydn's Symphony No 53, The Imperial represents a labour of love, in that it had to be reconstructed from orchestral parts in the 1930s. In the event, it is a typical -- and therefore highly impressive -- offering, which Stokowski delivers with very obvious affection. A tendency to rubato is easily forgiven in a performance on which so much love, as well as appreciation of wit, has been so generously expended. The highlight for me is the slow movement [listen -- track 3, 3:47-4:52], in which Haydn's unfailing genius for variation form is felicitously conveyed.

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Copyright © 14 August 2002 David Thompson, Eastwood, Essex, UK


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