Reviewing the riveting Sibelius Second on this CD, all that Fanfare magazine can muster is a sniffish cooment -- "It has a certain charisma, I suppose" -- before panning the whole disc. What they hate is Stokowski's many tempo fluctuations, a hallmark of his conducting style. I think it works incredibly well, however. This is thrice-familiar music, and the moment I hear the first bar I can anticipate everything to follow. Not here, however. Aftr an alarmingly slow start, Stokowski gets deeply involved with every bar, and the result grips the listener's attention. The recording is in mono from a Proms concert in Royal Albert Hall on Sept. 15, 1964, when the conductor was 82. You must expect somewhat muffled sonics, but the balance is good, and overall the sound is faithful enough to convey what the performance is about. The BBC Sym. Orch. plays well, but a true virtuoso orchestra would have served the conductor's grand gestures better, espcially in the very slow buildup of the finale. If those constraints don't rule out a purchase, this is fascinating music-making.
In 1965 Stokowski made a garish Phase-4 recording for Decca of excerpts from Sleeping Beauty. Alongside that project came this broadcast performance from Kingsway Hall using the same New Philharmonia Orch. This was music close to Stokowski's heart -- there's a historical recording on Cala that captures some of his best Tchaikovsky on disc. But the Decca recording was grotesquely manipulated, by both conductor and engineers, so I was apprehensive here. As it happens, we veer too far the other way -- the stereo recording is distant and dull. But Stokowski remains an ardent advocate of Tchaikovsky's great ballet score as grand symphonic music. In the midst of such abundant energy, which sometimes explodes with excitment, there's less room for nuance, however.
The CD is fille out generously with a mono account of the Egmont voer. from 1973 (Stokowski also made a later studio recording for Decca). Beethoven is one place where Stokowski's romantic spirit crosses too many lines, to my ears, but in this phase of his long carer he turned into a "straight" interpreter, and so despite its sonic limitations, this is a middle-of-the-road reading that ends on the boisterous side with braying horns and squealing piccolo. A stunning reading if you factor in that Stokowski was 91 at the time.