MUSSORGSKY:  Night on the Bare Mountain.  GLINKA:  Kamarinskaya.  SHOSTAKOVICH:  Prelude in E-flat minor, Op. 34 No. 14.  STRAVINSKY:  Pastorale.  TCHAIKOVSKY:  Ouverture solennelle "1812," Op. 49.  SCRIABIN:  Le PoËme de l'extase, Op. 54.  LYADOV: Russian Folk Songs, Op. 58.  BORODIN:  Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor.
John Alldis Choir/Welsh National Opera Chorus/Band of the Grenadier Guards/Royal Philharmonic Orch/Leopold Stokowski, cond.

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WAGNER:  Overture and Venusberg Music from T”nnhauser. DELIUS: Scenes from Act II of Irmelin.  BIZET:  Music from L'Arlesienne.  MASSENET:  The Last Sleep of the Virgin.
BBC Women's Chorus/Royal Philharmonic Orch; Sir Thomas Beecham, cond.

BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4068 (F) (ADD) TT:  73:22

Here are two winners in the fine BBC Legends series. The Stokowski concert dates from June 15, 1969 and seems to some extent to be a "rehearsal" for the simultaneous London/Decca studio recording sessions of much of this repertory. And what a concert of blockbusters it was!  The orchestra really had a workout, particularly the brass.  These live performances are tremendously exciting, superior to the London/Decca recordings, and far more naturally recorded.  This is a stereo recording, and a good one.  This concert was issued before on M&A (CD 847), but this BBC version from the master tapes has richer sound and extended bass as well. This 1812 is a rousing performance, the antithesis of most performances (including the recent Kunzel/Cincinnati issue) and there are cannon (only the first five shots, none in the final pages for whatever reason). In the vast spaces of Royal Albert Hall the cannon have a mighty impact. The Band of the Grenadier Guards adds to excitement in the final pages and it is to their credit, as well as the RPO, that they are able to follow so exactly the Maestro's challenging conception of the music. The John Alldis Choir is heard in a superlative performance of the Polovtisian Dances; again Stokowski works his magic, adding unique interpretive insights. Only four of the Liadov (spelled Lyadov here) Russian Folk Songs are included (Plaintive Song, Humorous Song, Cradle Song and Village Dance Song); Stokowski recorded all eight with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1934.  Another Stokowski specialty, Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, is enhanced by the fine sound which permits us to hear the huge Royal Albert Hall organ, more impressive than the organ in Royal Festival Hall, site of Stokowski's performance of the same work a year later (almost to the day) with the New Philharmonia Orchestra.  This is a remarkable CD—may we hope for issue of Stokowski's magnificent Mahler Second from the Proms?

Graham Melville-Mason's fine CD notes point out that although Sir Thomas' conducting career spanned more than six decades, he only appeared three times at the Proms. He is in rare form in this concert from September 16, 1954, a lengthy program that also included Haydn's Symphony No. 99 and Sibelius' Symphony No. 7, not on this CD.  Throughout the entire concert orchestral playing is outstanding.  As the annotator points out, the RPO at that time boasted many of England's finest players including Alan Civil (horn), Leon Goossens (oboe)—not a member of the RPO but stepping in because of illness of Terence MacDonagh, Leonard Brain (English horn), Frederick Riddle (viola), John Kennedy—the father of Nigel (cello), and Jack Brymer (clarinet).  The sound is fine mono (although cymbals are a touch overly prominent).  A highlight is a 17-minute suite of music from Irmelin by Delius edited and arranged by Sir Thomas. From Bizet's L'Arlesienne we have the first suite plus the "Menuet" and "Farandole" from the second, music he had recorded with the London Philharmonic in 1936, and with the French National Radio Symphony in the mid-late '50s. Wagner's Tannhauser Overture and Venusberg Music are presented with the assistance of the BBC Women's Chorus. An amusing 3:23 speech by Beecham begins as he advises the audience the ban on Proms encores has been lifted for this concert, and proceeds to conduct one of his favorite "lollipops," The Last Sleep of the Virgin by Massenet.

It was a very special night at the Proms and we are fortunate to have it available.  The BBC here offers fine monophonic sound, although, as mentioned earlier, cymbals sound alarmingly close to the microphones.

R.E.B. (Sept. 2001)