Philadelphia Orchestra / Leopold Stokowski

Walt Disney's Fantasia [Original Soundtrack]

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Leopold Strokowski's 1940 recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra for the movie Fantasia were landmarks on several counts. Apart from attempting to bring classical music to the masses in the theater, the soundtrack album -- which came out on LP in the 1950s -- was one of the earliest stereo recordings, featuring some of the most enjoyable high-fidelity sound of the period and boasting impeccable performances (even if the pieces were mostly re-edited and shortened). Apart from his reputation as a fiercely independent musical personality, Stokowski was also a showman with very few peers, and his careful yet extroverted performances of these pieces (including Stravinsky's "The Rite of Spring" and the summary of Beethoven's "Pastorale Symphony") introduced many listeners not blessed with classical music educations to these pieces for the first time. (As the film wasn't a success on its initial release, there weren't millions of such listeners, but at least many tens of thousands.) The performances on Fantasia retain their luster in the modern era, with sound clean enough that they do not need to be considered "historical" recordings. The recordings are also infinitely preferable to the mid-'80s attempt to re-score Fantasia with a modern orchestra and modern sound -- not only did the latter fall considerably short of what people expected, but the interpretations were flaccid and dull by comparison with the originals.

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