This disc has benefited from 20 bit digital re-mastering which has removed any fuzziness and clarified detail without creating edginess. There is a sense of the vast space which is the Albert Hall; reverberance without too much reverberation.
It of course features two composers with whom Stokowski was personally acquainted and indeed friendly; the pictures in the liner notes show him applauding Shostakovich and working on a score with Vaughan Williams - possibly the symphony here. The Eighth is arguably the most dreamily lyrical, colouristically adventurous and essentially English of Vaughan Williams' symphonies; there is a certain charm in hearing an 82 year-old conductor conduct an 84 year-old composer's music with such affection and indulgence. Some find the Fantasia and Cavatina too languorous but it seems to me that Stokowski captures their ethereal stillness, his careful moulding and firmness of line compensating for the diffuseness of the melody. The Scherzo is zestful, the Toccata exuberant. Vaughan Williams' prominent use of an expanded percussion section is of course a gift to an exhibitionist like Stokowski; he gives us a portrait of an Elgarian London: all rumbustious urban bustle and tolling bells.
The sustained, stabbing intensity of the opening of his Shostakovich, tempered by gorgeous string tone, works in stark contrast to, for example, the bleaker melancholy of Previn's Fifth. Previn is all icy chills, Stokowski's Fifth all burning agony. The swagger of the Allegretto pizzicato invites a parallel with his delivery of the Scherzo in Stokowski's Proms performance of Mahler's "Resurrection Symphony"; no-one does a demonic dance better than Stokowski. The Largo yearns and swoons, achieving a tragic status; the finale is triumphant and leonine. Stokowski claimed a special affinity with Slavic music; Shostakovich acknowledged and honoured him for it. I certainly know of no finer performance of this favourite symphony than this one.