HOLST:  The Planets, Op. 32.  SCHOENBERG: Verklärte Nacht, Op. 4
Women's Voices of the Roger Wagner Chorale/Los Angeles Philharmonic Orch (Holst); Symphony Orch. (Schoenberg)/Leopold Stokowski, cond.
EMI CLASSICS 67469 (M) (ADD) TT:  75:03

ORFF:  Carmina Burana.  LOEFFLER: A Pagan Poem, Op. 14
Virginia Babikian, soprano; Clyde Hager, tenor; Guy Gardner, baritone; Houston Chorale; Houston Youth Symphony Boys' Choir; Houston Symphony Orch/(Orff)/ Symphony Orch./(Loeffler)Leopold Stokowski, cond.

EMI CLASSICS 67569 (M) (ADD) TT:  75:56

In 1955 Leopold Stokowski became music director of the Houston Symphony. He seemed to fascinate Texans with his imaginative programming and glamour; however, the honeymoon didn't last long and he left in 1961 when Texans had enough of his contemporary music as well as his own disappointment in not being permitted to present Schonberg's Gurrelieder with an all-Black chorus. 

In 1957 Capitol released its first Stokowski recording, a stereo LP called "The Orchestra" featuring works of Dukas, Barber, Richard Strauss, Farberman, Persichetti, Vaughan Williams and the finale of  Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibiton in the Ravel orchestration.  The unidentified orchestra actually was members of the Boston Symphony but could not be identified because of contractual reasons.   The next recording was The Planets of Holst, recorded in Los Angeles on Stage Seven of the Samuel Goldwyn Studios in Hollywood September 2/3, 1956.  Notes in this CD reissue include a letter from Stokowski to the record producer after hearing a test pressing, asking if trumpets could be "filtered" in specific parts, more bass could be added, and more echo in "Uranus" and "Neptune."  Stokowski was not pleased with the issued disk because an engineer had abruptly cut off the ending of "Neptune," when he wanted it to fade away imperceptibly (as called for in the score), which has been done in this reissue,  remastered digitally according to "studio engineer notations" from original sessions.  The performance contains the expected Stokowski mannerisms (which I don't object to), in particular the smashing tam-tam at the end of "Mars."  Sonically this recording was always rather shallow and digital remastering hasn't helped much.  The organ glissando at the loud climax of "Uranus" is inaudible, but organ pedals in that movement and the concluding "Neptune" are very prominent, obviously dubbed in. The accompanying Transfigured Night, recorded in Hollywood in August 1957, fares much better sonically, with rich string textures essential for the score.

Carmina Burana was recorded during three days in April, 1958 in Jesse Jones Auditorium in Houston.  This music was one of Stokowski's major successes with Houston audiences, but his reading is rather subdued, replete with exaggerated tempo changes.  His soloists are fine, but the baritone's work is much easier as, for whatever reason, Stokowski assigns the higher parts of  the 16th section, "Dies, nox et omnia," to the tenor.  Most of the songs are meant by the composer to be heard three times; Stokowski omits several of the repeats.   Charles Martin Loeffler's exotic A Pagan Poem is his masterpiece (almost a piano concerto!), another of the countless American works championed by Stokowski.  The first recording, surprisingly, was made in Paris in 1952 with Manuel Rosenthal conducting (available on another Capitol CD 66887), but cannot match the color of Stokowski's interpretation -- and the fine stereo recording, which was made in Hollywood  in December 1957.  The superb pianist is Robert Hunter, identified on the previous CD issue (EMI Classics 65074) but not on this new remastering.

Greater things were yet to come from Houston.  In 1958 Capitol recorded Stokowski's magnificent Shostakovich Symphony No. 11, a "sonic blockbuster" indeed (Capitol 65206), and Everest shortly afterwards began their fine series with the Texan orchestra.  For Stokowski fans every reissue is valuable, and these two new ones are especially welcome.

R.E.B. (Aug. 2001)