It has only been since the turn of the twenty first century that Leopold Stokowski's transcriptions for orchestra -- particularly those of Johann Sebastian Bach's music -- are an important part of the orchestral literature. Before that, opinions regarding them mainly ranged from necessary evil, owing to the popularity of certain ones, to that of wholesale bowdlerization, abuses committed against unwitting composers unable to object to such treatment because they were dead. However, the value of Stokowski's transcriptions as a kind of personal outlet of creativity for a great conductor -- who couldn't seem to get his game on as a composer himself -- is gradually being recognized; their worth from the perspective of pure, high-quality orchestration has never been in doubt. Conductor José Serebrier was one of Stokowski's rare followers among conductors and has never had a problem with reviving his master's orchestral transcriptions. Naxos' Stokowski: Bach Transcriptions 2 features Serebrier and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in what appears to be a comprehensive traversal of Stokowski's output in terms of transcriptions for orchestra, although if so, Naxos doesn't seem to be in a big hurry to get it all out; this 2009 release is separated from its predecessor by no less than three years.
While the first volume combined some moderately familiar material with some highly specialized stuff, this one gets off the ground with the big guns: Stokowski's famous transcription of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor. It is a big, walloping performance, as well, and Naxos' sound matches the appropriate ambience, though one might wish it had a bit more power as it is going up against numerous audiophile quality recordings of this piece, including old ones by Stokowski himself rescued from the mothballs and souped up in new formats. The disc continues with nine more Bach transcriptions, with a further tenth tacked onto the end, along with a miscellany reserved for the second half: Palestrina, Byrd, Jeremiah Clarke, Boccherini, Mattheson, and Haydn all served up Stokowski style. It is a very rich, calorie-laden menu, and for those who insist on textual purity, historical accuracy, and period instruments in music of the Baroque and Classical eras, this will be like a peanut allergy. But for those who enjoy the rich tapestries of the orchestra and enjoy Stokowski's blend already, this should prove highly satisfying; one thing Serebrier does very well is to turn corners the way Stokowski did, a specific kind of rubato at the ends of phrases, which is partly intuitive and Serebrier knows how to finesse that well. Naxos' Stokowski: Bach Transcriptions 2 is a fitting homage from Serebrier to his mentor and, by virtue of its program, may prove more generally appealing than the first volume was.