Leopold Stokowski

Stokowski First Releases

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In 2010, Cala Records announced the conclusion of its Stokowski Society-sponsored releases, which in the end ran to 33 issues published over a period of 15 years. Stokowski: First Releases was the first in this series and was wholly devoted to Stokowski recordings, which, at the time, had never been released at all, ranging chronologically from 1927 to 1944 and featuring the esteemed maestro in selections performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra, NBC Symphony, and New York City Symphony, which later merged with the New York Philharmonic. With the exception of the opening track, all of these are studio recordings, and the live recording was a special giveaway item made professionally at a live benefit concert. That track is likely the rarest and also least interesting item on the disc, but it is followed by the uproarious Balance Test March, an orchestral improvisation used to check levels on which the only objective was to be as LOUD as possible; here, one can here the bass drum pounding away, orchestral members shouting and yee-haw-ing and other multileveled brands of chaos while the band blows away at full volume on an overly simple tune. For those interested in deconstruction, this is a classic and should not be missed, whereas others may well wonder, "What's the point?"

While Balance Test March may not really constitute a Stokowski composition, per se, there are numerous Stokowski orchestral transcriptions afoot, and including his set of Schubert Deutschers entitled Tyrolean Dances, his transcription of a Tchaikovsky song, the "Pastoral Symphony" from Handel's Messiah, Stephen Foster's "Oh, Susannah!," and Scriabin's Etude in C sharp, Op. 2/1. In terms of real works there's a blazing 1944 recording of Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, the "Dance of the Seven Veils" from Richard Strauss' Salome, and two mega-obscurities of American composers, Joseph La Monaca's Saltarello and "Sunset Reflections" from Robert Kelly's Adirondack Suite. Much of this will prove terribly arcane to the average listener, though the sound is always quite good and for expert ears -- particularly those well versed in Stokowski -- this will be a treasure trove. Moreover, despite being as short as it is at only 1:44, there's really isn't anything quite like the Balance Test March.

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