VAUGHAN WILLIAMS:  Symphony No. 4 in F Minor.  ANTHEIL:  Symphony No. 4 "1942."   BUTTERWORTH:  A Shropshire Lad. 
NBC Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
CALA CACD 0528 (F) (ADD)  TT:  74:37

Stokowski never recorded any of these works commercially and apparently these performances are the only performnaces he ever gave.  He conducted other Vaughan Williams symphonies, recording the Sixth in 1949 with the New York Philharmonic (briefly available on Sony Classical SMK 58933, paired with Symphony No. 4 and the Tallis Fantasia conducted by Dimitri Mitropoulos). Stokowski recorded the latter in 1952 with a pick-up orchestra for RCA, and in 1975 with the Royal Philharmonic for Desmar.  (The BBC Radio Classics series contains a live recording of the Fantasia from a concert May 14, 1974 when the conductor was 94 [BBCRD 9107)] a program that also includes Symphony No. 4 of Brahms, Ravel's Rapsodie espagnole and, as a tribute to Otto Klemperer, who had died less than a year earlier, the latter's Merry Waltz.)

Of primary interest is Antheil's Symphony No. 4, a work written in California and completed in 1943. The Symphony was strongly influenced by the war, reflecting the composer's tense and troubled state of mind at the time as he reacted to the horrors of news of the day (which, as a newspaper war analist, he knew well), with the fourth and final movement representing victory.  Antheil had great confidence in the work and sent it to Stokowski whom he had met briefly. Just a few hours after Stokowski received the score he telephoned Antheil enthusiastic about the work saying he would play it.  Stokowski gave the world premiere on an NBC Symphony Orchestra broadcast Feb. 13, 1944.  He had to fight to include it as NBC officials were concerned about all of the "modern" music Stokowski was scheduling (including Schonberg's Piano Concerto, which probably was the "last straw," resulting in non-renewal of the conductor's contract with NBC).  In his 1945 autobiography Bad Boy of Music, Antheil described the broadcast of his symphony.  He, his good friend Hedy Lamarr and his wife Boski, listened in their living room in California hearing Stokowski's "superlative conducting of the score" and were elated at the favorable audience reaction.  The first concert hall performance was with the D.C. National Symphony under Hans Kindler Jan. 7, 1945, the first recording, with the London Symphony directed by Sir Eugene Goossens, was released in 1959 on Vanguard (EVC 9039).

Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 4 is given a vivid performance with considerable portamento.  The New York Times wrote the "fine dynamics, splendid tone, intensely built-up climaxes, with particularly fine use of the brasses, produced a most satisfactory reading of this great symphony."  How times have changed!  This was a performance for radio, though with an audience -- and it was reviewed as if a regular concert.  Butterworth's gentle tone-poem is played with utmost sensitivity, this performance representing the only one Stokowski ever gave of the composer's music.

Throughout these performances the NBC Symphony displays that it was, indeed, a virtuoso ensemble.  The sound is well-balanced and surprisingly good for its vintage although there isn't much bass.  A major addition to the Stokowski discography—congratulations to Cala!

R.E.B. (Feb. 2002)