Leopold Stokowski

Stokowski: Live from the Proms

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Fans of Leopold Stokowski may enjoy this historic recording of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E minor, performed at the Royal Albert Hall in August 1973, though it won't have a much bigger audience than that. This symphony is one of the most performed works in the repertoire, and it has a crowd-pleasing quality that Stokowski plays up all the way, emphasizing its heightened emotions with elastic tempos and exaggerated dynamics. For romantics who relish such extremes in Tchaikovsky, Stokowski's wildly freewheeling reading -- replete with grandiose ritardandos in the most obvious places -- may have some appeal, though even these listeners will wince at some of the scrappy playing by the inadequately rehearsed International Festival Orchestra (excerpts from the final rehearsals are included on the fifth track). However, the state of live recordings was not advanced in 1973, and this one suffers from omnipresent audience noises, a seriously compressed orchestral sound, and a seemingly distant microphone that seems to have been situated in the back of the hall. The technical problems make most of the soft passages sound weak and wobbly, and one is never sure whether there were some volume adjustments that account for the rather forced crescendos and diminuendos. Considering that there are many great modern performances with superior playing and exceptional sound quality, this CD decidedly isn't the go-to recording for newcomers. However, collectors of rare Stokowskiana probably shouldn't miss it.

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