BRAHMS:  Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Op. 68.  FALLA:  El Amor Brujo
Nan Merriman, mezzo-soprano; Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.

DUTTON CDBP 9705 (B) (ADD) TT:  66:39

Leopold Stokowski had a particular love for  Falla's El Amor Brujo.  In Oliver Daniel's biography of Stokowski (A Counterpoint of View), soprano Rose Bampton spoke of  Stokowski working  with her in preparation for a Philadelphia Orchestra concert, telling her the plot in such a "hair-raising" manner that she was left  "white and shocked."  Stokowski also selected El Amor Brujo for his return to the Philadelphia Orchestra after a 19 year hiatus in January 1959.  I was fortunate enough to be in the audience for the unforgettable event.  The concert opened with Mozart's Marriage of Figaro overture, continued with El Amor Brujo with Shirley Verrett as soloist, Respighi's The Pines of Rome, and concluded with Shostakovich's Symphony No. 5.  Columbia recorded the Falla which inexplicably they never issued on CD in the U.S. although it can be heard in a French Sony CD of "Essential Spanish Music" (S3K 64138).  Stokowski's interpretation also can be heard in a superb live BBC performance recorded in stereo September 15, 1964 with the BBC Symphony and Gloria Lane as soloist (Music & Arts CD 770 or BBC Legends 4005).

In Daniel's book Nan Merriman relates  working with Stokowski  in 1946 for the performance in Hollywood Bowl.  She knew the music from a recording by L'Argentinita (with Antal Dorati conducting) but had never sung it.  After rehearsals with Stoki he told her she was born to sing this music.  The evening of the concert must have been a "magic night" at the Bowl.  Perfect weather, a starry night, with darkly suntanned Merriman making a dramatic entrance wearing a white lace dress, and singing this music with her rich, throaty sound.  The morning after, Stokowski  telephoned to say her performance was "musical perfection," and two days later, August 14, 1946 RCA made this recording "at Hollywood Bowl."  It would be interesting to know more details about the recording; surely it was not recorded outside.  It has been recognized as one of the finest made of the score.  RCA's well-balanced mono sound has been perfectly transferred by Michael Dutton as has the First Symphony of Brahms, recorded one year earlier.  This is not a performance for purists. Stokowski's mannerisms may offend some, but I find them convincing.  This actually is the conductor's third recording.  He made the first American recording in 1927, which included an extra 78 rpm disc with the conductor outlining themes of the work.  Another Philadelphia recording was made in 1935, and his fourth and final one was in 1972 for RCA in stereo with the London Symphony; a half-century earlier the young conductor led his first concert with this orchestra and the program included the Brahms First. If you're interested in hearing Stokowski's earliest recordings of the Brahms symphonies they can be found in a fine Biddulph 2-CD set (WHL 017/18) with expert transfers by Ward Marston.

This new Dutton release is a treasure and highly recommended.