The gift that conductor and composer José Serebrier inherited from his former mentor, Leopold Stokowski, is immediately apparent upon even a brief listen to this album. Both men have an alluring gift: the ability to make an orchestra sound gorgeous. Serebrier is perhaps one of the few remaining authoritative spokesmen for Stokowski, and his passion and deep sentiment for his former mentor's works is audible. He sculpts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra into a shapely, luxurious, and rich ensemble of which Stokowski would be proud. While many of Stokowski's own recordings of his transcriptions are indeed available on disc, this recording has the additional benefit of clarity combined with today's more accurate technical performance standards. This is elucidated in the phenomenally agile, articulate and musical woodwind playing -- the section for which Stokowski consistently wrote the most challenging excerpts for in his transcriptions.
Although Stokowski orchestrated compositions as diverse as his extensive conducting repertoire, this album's content is centered on the music of J.S. Bach. Particularly, the album features the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor, a welcome alternative to the more omnipresent anchor of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor. A number of Bach's chorale preludes are also featured, most notably a beautifully rich setting of "Komm süsser Tod" and a poignant, woodwind-rich orchestration of the "Sheep may safely graze." Stokowski's own Ancient Liturgical Melodies are also included: somewhat similar to Respighi's Ancient Dances and Airs in their manner of composition, they radiate a more somber in tone thanks to Stokowski's characteristically deep string coloring which is especially rich with viola sound. Naxos has also included one of Stokowski's finest creations (that is ironically not always so easy to find): Purcell's Dido's Lament. BSO solo cellist Timothy Walden brings a warm, inviting sound throughout that eventually canvasses through the rest of the string sections. The eerie octave passages that Stokowski later wrote for the upper strings at the end of this touching passacaglia are enough to send shivers down the spine of anyone listening with a compassionate ear.
The woodwind playing from the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is absolutely outstanding throughout: organ-like in sound quality, refined, and technically superb. Combined with the luxurious string sound and Naxos' superb audio quality, Serebrier's (mostly) good ideas are given good documentation. Stokowski's orchestrations, though certainly not Puritan by musicological standards, help give a present-day approach to these Baroque works that might otherwise fall by the wayside. If you've never heard any of these gems, this recording is an excellent place to start your journey.