Richness of Colour
Stokowski conducts Wagner, Enescu, Debussy and Stravinsky,
Nothing is more exciting on this remarkable disc than the Wagner excerpt. Stokowski's Youth Orchestra was founded in 1940, when the country of his birth was already hideously involved in the Second World War; it was disbanded two years later when Pearl Harbour brought in the Americans too. The 'binaural' recording has not been issued before. It has all the elements concentrated on Wagner's warrior-maidens in a ferocity that would have needed every Walt Disney resource to capture adequately on screen. Gales howl round them, downpours lash them, lightnings flash at them, as they press on relentless to their mountain fastness.
Listen -- Wagner: Ride of the Valkyries
(track 12, 0:00-1:35) © 2008 Cala Records Ltd
If musical heritage and capability was a criterion for membership of the European Union, as of course it should be (bankers and economics are at last finally discredited), Romania would have been in years ago. The rhythmic vitality and melodic flair that Enescu has so happily captured in the first piece made a natural appeal to Stokowski's unrivalled feeling for orchestral colour. This is the most recent recording on the CD (1953), and it is pleasing to know that his final contract, signed at the age of ninety-four, would have kept him on his batonless rostrum till past his first century; but, like many of us, he died first.
Listen -- Enescu: Romanian Rhapsody No 1
(track 1, 1:33-3:17) © 2008 Cala Records Ltd
In the two outer movements of the Debussy, subtlety of colour and atmosphere are all, with the doubtless blameless women of the Robert Shaw Chorale impersonating those troublesome Sirens who lured so many sailors to their doom in antiquity, and maybe now too, for all we know. But in the central Fêtes, elusive dance rhythms captivate from the outset, with Debussy suggesting an eventual intoxication he leaves us to imagine. Stokowski relishes the kaleidoscopic shifting of orchestral sonorities throughout the piece.
Listen -- Debussy: Fêtes (Nocturnes)
(track 4, 0:00-1:46) © 2008 Cala Records Ltd
Stokowski gamely followed Stravinsky through many of his various incarnations, just as he did Schoenberg in his rigid consistency. Who could forget those magnificent dinosaurs of the Disney Fantasia film? But it is probably safe to say that The Firebird remained top favourite. That Stokowski made eight recordings of the Suite between 1924 and 1967 would suggest as much. The music has all the richness of colour Russian composers had exploited by the end of the nineteenth century, and Stravinsky is out to prove nothing, least of all any born-again originality.
Listen -- Stravinsky: Infernal Dance of King Kastchei (Firebird Suite)
Copyright © 30 November 2008
Robert Anderson, Cairo, Egypt
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CD INFORMATION: STOKOWSKI - THE ETERNAL MAGICIAN
(track 9, 0:28-1:38) © 2008 Cala Records Ltd
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