Francesca Da Rimini / Hamlet Import
|1. Frantasia for Orchestra (after Dante), Op. 32: Francesca da Rimini - TCHAIKOVSKY/SCRIABIN|
|2. Hamlet (Overture and Fantasy) - TCHAIKOVSKY/SCRIABIN|
|3. Le Peome D'Extase, Op. 54 - TCHAIKOVSKY/SCRIABIN|
In case you're wondering, the "Stadium Symphony of New York" is the name the New York Philharmonic had to use when it wasn't recording for CBS. The name comes from the old Lewison Stadium, where the orchestra used to give summer concerts. In any case, this record is a classic--still probably the best ever Francesca, and the disc that put Hamlet on the musical map. Yes folks, there is another Tchaikovsky tone poem based on Shakespeare besides Romeo and Juliet Actually, there are three (the third is The Tempest). These performances have been around a while, and still sound fantastic. They are simply as good as it gets. --David Hurwitz
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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.
Francesca da Rimini is a piece that is sometimes derided by critics, but what an intense orgasmic work it is! Tchaikovsky in his program music builds on the foundations set down by Franz Liszt, all the while reshaping the symphonic poem into his own brand of music, filled with originality. Lush orchestrations, soaring melodies, extreme expression coupled with manic assault is the stuff that Romantic dreams are made of. I haven't heard a more intense recording of this piece, just listen to the whirlwind strings throughout. The one thing I have to mention is the final moments with the tam tam strikes. The recorded sound is very fine for it's time but lacks the final amplitude of today's digital records, making the tam tam strikes not as overpowering as they can be. Listen to Pletnev's version with the Russian National Orchestra on DG for comparison. Pletnev really strikes that tam tam out of the park! Nonetheless, I take my hat off to Stokowski for his masterful realization of this piece that few conductors can hope to match.
The Hamlet symphonic poem is one that has been far less popular than Francesca da Rimini or Romeo and Juliet and with good reason. It's not as structurally sound or as melodically inspired as those two. But that doesn't matter in Stokowski's capable hands as he wrings the last drop of passion from this score. The only recording that even compares is probably Leonard Bernstein's version with the New York Philharmonic.
The Poem of Ecstasy by Scriabin is hardly one of the best versions. Although Stokowski fawned over the piece, this very colorful music requires lush recorded sound and that's not what we get here. The performance is grand and visionary but Riccardo Muti is superior on EMI with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Muti's performance really brings home the "cocaine ice bath" description of this late-romantic work. In the end, this CD is a must purchase for the Tchaikovsky pieces, which are infused with a rare breed of fire-breathing inspiration I find missing in most of today's conductors. Nothing less than five stars.
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