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Stylish and Pointed

Stokowski conducts
Bizet and Debussy -
enjoyed by

'... a rhythmic élan and masterly sense of line ...'

Stokowski - Bizet and Debussy. © 2008 Cala Records

My first memory of Stokowski goes back to my boyhood, when I was mesmerised by his showmanship as conductor of the Fantasia film, and thrilled to see him shaking hands with Mickey Mouse who, as the 'Sorcerer's Apprentice', was overwhelmed by the endless buckets of water hurled into his work-place by the innumerable brooms he had carelessly brought to life. I was later told that the great conductor had begun life as an English organist by name of Stokes (quite untrue). It was some time before I realised that the Polish-descended Stokowski differed from most conductors in not using a baton.

I can now relish the extraordinary subtlety of his music-making. His Symphony Orchestra is simply an assemblage of the finest players available to him in New York and elsewhere. The symphony of the teenage Bizet is wonder enough; and here it is played with a rhythmic élan and masterly sense of line that are a constant delight.

Listen -- Bizet: Allegro vivace (3rd movement, Symphony in C)
(track 3, 0:00-1:25) © 2008 Cala Records Ltd

Much of the time, and notably with the outstanding oboe playing, Stokowski gives the members of his team their head. But always those sensitive hands are in overall control.

Listen -- Bizet: Allegro vivace (4th movement, Symphony in C)
(track 4, 0:00-1:51) © 2008 Cala Records Ltd

The Bizet recordings date from 1952, but have been burnished to a renewed and almost contemporary splendour. The young lady of Arles, conjured initially into a short story by Alphonse Daudet but then transferred to the three-act play that elicited Bizet's music, was no better than she should have been. Her infidelities were such that her swain was driven to distraction and eventual suicide. The suites culled by Bizet and later Guiraud from the incidental music tell no such sorry tale. This is the conclusion to Bizet's suite No 1.

Listen -- Bizet: Carillon (L'Arlésienne Suite No 1)
(track 8, 3:12-4:35) © 2008 Cala Records Ltd

Whether it was prudent of Debussy to introduce his little daughter and her golly to Wagner's Tristan und Isolde so early in their joint career is entirely a family matter. He clearly enjoyed making fun of that inescapable nineteenth-century landmark. Stokowski gives in 1949 a beautifully stylish and pointed version of the 'Cake-Walk', with its improbable 'trio' devoted to the death-doomed lovers.

Listen -- Debussy: Golliwogg's Cake-Walk (Children's Corner Suite)
(track 18, 1:14-2:01) © 2008 Cala Records Ltd

Would that our younger conductors might devote more time to studying musicianship of Stokowski's calibre and less to fussing tediously about original instruments.

Copyright © 5 August 2008 Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt


Stokowski - Bizet and Debussy

CACD0548 ADD Stereo REISSUE 78'15" 2008 Cala Records Ltd

Leopold Stokowski and his Symphony Orchestra

Georges Bizet (1838-1875): Symphony in C (Allegro vivo; Adagio; Allegro vivace; Allegro vivace); L'Arlésienne Suite No 1 (arranged by the composer) (Prélude; Menuet; Adagietto; Carillon); L'Arlésienne Suite No 2 (arranged by Guiraud) (Pastorale; Intermezzo; Menuet; Farandole); Claude Debussy (1862-1918): Children's Corner Suite (orchestrated by Caplet) (Dr Gradus ad Parnassum; Jimbo's Lullaby; Serenade for the Doll; The Snow is Dancing; The Little Shepherd; Golliwog's Cake-Walk)


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