Stokowski liked to keep up with innovations in recording technology, so he must have been fascinated by the idea of using 35 mm film stock as an audio medium. The results, as evidenced here, are spectacular. Even though the Hamlet dates from 1958, and the other two recordings from around that time, the sound could be mistaken for the best SACD today. It has enormous impact, warmth, and clarity. The works here are all opulent in orchestration, which added to the LP's reputation among audiophiles. The CD sounds just as good in Everest's Super Bit Mapping transfer.
As to the performances, the Francesca da Rimini was once without peer for excitement, but that was before we heard Markevitch and Mravinsky, who trump Stokowski's volatility by going volcanic on the pice. Even so, this is a wonderful reading, not at all excessive, with complete musicality to support the fervid drama.
Hamlet is the most famous item on the program because Stokowski single-handedly rehabilitated one of Tchaikovsky's neglected step-children. The work comes from the period of Sleeping Beauty, when Tchaikovsky was at the peak of inspiration. Not here, though. As a tone poem it suffers from a sprawling structure, too many diffuse elements loosely strung together, and no memorable melodies. Given all those drawbacks--not to mention that the opening theme all but quotes Francesca--Stokowski throws himself into the piece with cinematic conviciton, painting vivd images that surpass the potential of the score, a rare thing. Nobody to my knowledge has come close to this kind of intensity since, and the recording, which is in even better sound than the Francesca, remains a classic. You return to it not for Tchaikovsky'inspiration but for Stokowski's.
The conductor was fond of Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, which he rcorded at least three times. This version is beautifully played and recorded, making it the standout. The sonics are close--we are thrown right into the middle of the woodwind section, relishing all of Scriabin's lush coloring, which is about all there is to this restless, nearly neurotic piece. I suppose Scriabin intended a structure--we are told that the work is halfway between a tone poem and a symphony--but he lacked a melodic gift, so you have to cling to his pecuiar slithering harmonies and let the lava pour over you. Stokowski's reading sounds like incidental film music to a sex party of nymphs and satyrs on downers, which must be close to what the composer intended.