Music of Vivaldi, Palestrina, Frescobaldi, Lully, Byrd, Handel, Bach, Boccherini, Haydn, Beethoven, Franck, Debussy, Weber, Brahms, Johann Strauss II, Richard Strauss, and Sousa
Philadelphia Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
MUSIC & ARTS CD 1173 (4 CDS) TT: 58:42 / 75:54 / 73:27 / 74:52

GRAINGER: Country Gardens. Mock Morris. Early One Morning. Shepherd's Hey. Irish Tune from County Derry. Molly on the Shore. Handel in the Strand. SIBELIUS: Berceuse from The Tempest. Valse Triste from Kuolema. VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. RACHMANINOFF: Vocalise. GRANADOS: Intermezzo from Goyescas. DEBUSSY: Clair de Lune. IBERT: Escales
CALA CD CACD0542 TT: 77:58

RACHMANINOFF: Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18. Polka de W.R. SCARLATTI: Sonata in A, Kk.113. CHOPIN: Scherzo No. 3 in C# minor, Op. 39. Impromptu No. 1 in A flat, Op. 29. Waltz No. 5 in A flat, Op. 42 (two recordings). Etude No. 8 in F, Op. 10. LISZT: La leggierezza (Concert Etude No. 2). Gnomenreigen (two recordings). Interview with Simon Barere.
Simon Barere, pianist/Orch./Antonia Brico
APR 52 TT:75:49

ELGAR: Cockaigne Overture, Op. 40 (including one 78rpm side in "accidental stereo." Enigma Variations, Op. 36. Pomp and Circumstance Marches.
NAXOS 8.111022 TT: 67:35

WAGNER: Lohengrin
Wolfgang Windgassen (Lohengrin); Eleanor Steber (Elsa); Hermann Uhde (Telramund); Astrid Varnay (Ortrud); Josef Greindl (Henry); Bayreuth Festival Chorus and Orch/Joseph Keilberth, cond.
NAXOS 8.110308-10 (3 CDs) TT: 2:22:37

Here are two essential issues for the Stokowski collector. The Music & Arts set (4 CDs selling for the price of 3) offers first CD issues of many rare Philadelphia Orchestra recordings, the earliest from 1927, the latest, 1940, all in quality transfers by the master of such matters, Mark Obert-Thorn. Superb program notes by Richard Freed give details of each work and the conductor's various recordings of each, often mentioning releases on other labels. There is much fascinating information here including details about Stokowski's formation in 1924 of what was called "the Band of Gold," a 120-member group comprised of the entire brass section of the PO plus other players, who wore gold uniforms during their two seasons of existence. Unfortunately no recordings were made, but we come close with three Sousa favorites. This is a valuable set, as is Cala's disk featuring RCA recordings made 1947-1953 with a hand-picked virtuoso orchestra. Featured are seven works by Percy Grainger orchestrated by the composer at Stokowski's request for this recording. I have long treasured the original LP releases of everything on this CD—what a pleasure it is now to be able to enjoy these splendid very well-recorded performances in fine transfers from pristine masters minus all the ticks and clicks that marred original releases.

APR previously issued most recordings of Simon Barere (1896-1951) on CD but these have been discontinued. Now the company is reissuing them in new transfers although original sound was rather shallow and even the best remastering cannot totally compensate for this.Featured here some of Barere's live performances at Carnegie Hall, the major work being Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2 with an unidentified orchestra conducted by Antonia Brico, described in Brian Crimp's highly informative program notes as, "that indefatigably brave pioneer of female conductors," who led several New York orchestras between 1935 and 1942. It's a rather brisk, unsettled account of the score, but valuable to have. Date of the off-air recital isn't known; the Odeon recordings (Chopin Etude and Waltz No. 5, Gnomenreigen and Rachmaninoff Polka) are from 1929. Barere's Chopin is uncommonly brisk; the Op. 42 waltz zips by in a fantastic display of virtuosity, not ideal Chopin but exciting to hear, and his performances of the Liszt pieces are rightfully legendary. The 8-minute New Zealand 1947 radio interview isn't really an interview—it's obvious questions (by a stuffy announcer) and Barere's answers were being read, but it does give us the opportunity to hear the artist's voice. Hats off to APR for their continuing interest in this superb unjustly neglected pianist.

The last two issues are not available in the U.S. but surely worth obtaining from Europe. The Elgar collection features the composer's last recordings of the listed works, made from 1926-1933, all marked by brisk tempi. Of particular interest is the third side of Cockaigne which is heard at the end of the CD as well as in the complete recording. As Mark Obert-Thorn explains, during the 1933 sessions two separate microphones were used with two separate turntables, the second more of a backup—and through a remarkable feat of digital prestidigitation OT has coordinated the two producing a true "stereo" effect. There's no question that the stereo effect is there, and it's a fascinating listening experience. Perhaps Naxos will consider issuing more such recordings. However, these were not the first "stereo" recordings; Bel Labs had made a few experimental stereo recordings with Stokowski and the Philadeplhia Orchestra in 1931/1932 all of which would be welcome additions to the CD catalog (Iron Needle issued some of them, a CD long unavailable).

Lohengrin was recorded during July-August 1953 in Bayreuth's Festspielhaus, taken from a rehearsal and four performances, the rehearsal and first performance recorded by the Decca team of John Culshaw and Kenneth Wilkinson, the remainder—for whatever reason—by Teldec's engineering crew which accounts for the different balances heard throughout this final edited version, issued in the U.S. in a 5-LP London set (LLA 16). The sound overall is very clear and reasonably well balanced, although there is a brightness that needs taming. The cast throughout is excellent, particularly Windgassen's singing of the title role, with Eleanor Steber a radiant Elsa. The only disappointment is Astrid Varnay's Ortrud; on this occasion she was not at her best, surprising as there are live performances available of two recordings of Salome and one of Elektra made that same year in which she is in superb voice.

R.E.B. (January 2006)