MUSSORGSKY: Scenes from Boris Godunov. WAGNER: Excerpts from Parsifal.
Nicola Rossi-Lemeni, bass; San Francisco Opera Chorus; San Francisco Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond. (Mussorgsky)
Leopold Stokowski Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond. (Wagner)
CALA CACD0535 (F) (ADD) TT: 79:34

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. SCHOENBERG: Transfigured Night. WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll.
Symphony of the Air/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
BRIDGE 9074 (F) (ADD) TT: 63:39

The Cala issue is of major importance to Stokowski collectors as it brings to CD for the first time the conductor's December 1952 recording of excerpts from Boris Godunov, a work closely associated with him. He had conducted two concert performances of the opera earlier with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the first time in 1929 when he used the Mussorgsky "original" version. He also made his own "symphonic synthesis" of the opera, which he recorded three times, first in 1936 with the Philadelphia Orchestra, then in 1941 with the American Symphony Orchestra and in 1968, in stereo, with the Suisse Romande Orchestra (there also exists in pirate circles a magnificent live 1968 Boston Symphony broadcast). In 1952 Stokowski opted for the Rimsky-Korsakov version of the opera with its vivid orchestral textures and sonorities. As RCA was planning a recording, it seems the San Francisco concerts were held with this in mind and because of playing time limitations of an LP, only about 51 minutes of the score was performed/recorded, with sessions held immediately after the concert performances. Rossi-Lemeni is a superb Boris, the San Francisco chorus and orchestra are excellent—and throughout we have the drama and sonorities always associated with the conductor. Bells and gongs are used frequently to wondrous effect, and RCA's sound is well-balanced mono.

For me the Parsifal excerpts are particularly welcome as I once owned two copies of the RCA LP (LM 1730) and both were plagued with ticks and pops—now these defects are, of course, totally gone. Music from Parsifal figured prominently in Stokowski's programming. He recorded the Good Friday Spell three times, first in Philadelphia in 1936 for RCA, again for RCA in 1952 with his hand-picked orchestra (the one heard on this CD), and a third time in 1959 in stereo with the Houston Symphony for Capitol. His "symphonic synthesis" of music from Act III also was recorded thrice, first in 1934 in Philadelphia, the second (on this CD) and third times in 1952 and 1959.

Bridge's CD brings performances from a concert given in the Library of Congress Nov. 17, 1960 with the Symphony of the Air. Because of the small size of the concert area, the orchestra was quite small (12 violins, 6 violas, 7 cellos, 3 double basses with pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and trumpets, plus four horns and timpani). Don't expect the rich orchestral sound to be heard in other Stokowski recordings of this music (except Siegfried Idyll, which is his only recorded performance of the work; is was released more than a decade ago on Music & Arts CD 657). The Tallis Fantasia was recorded in 1952 for RCA, and in stereo with the Royal Philharmonic in 1975; Transfigured Night also was recorded in 1952 for RCA, and in 1957 in stereo for Capitol Records.

Both of these CDs are essential for Stokowski collectors.

R.E.B. (June 2003)