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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S. / PALESTRINA, G. / BYRD, W. / CLARKE, J. / BOCCERINI, L. / HAYDN, J. / MATTHESON, J.: Stokowski Transcriptions, Vol. 2
Leopold Stokowski arranged nearly 40 works from Bach’s catalogue for the modern symphony orchestra, and José Serebrier’s second volume of Bach-Stokowski Transcriptions is as colourful and wide-ranging as the first (8.557883). In response to popular and critical demand the present selection begins with the most famous Bach orchestration of all, the celebrated Toccata and Fugue in D minor. This reached its widest public in Walt Disney’s Fantasia and here introduces a programme of sumptuous arrangements, including other music from the pre- and postbaroque periods. – The Leopold Stokowski Society
By Orest Soltykevych
BBC Radio 3
By Hugo Munday
By Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
There are a total of 11 Bach works as arranged by Stokowski, plus 6 others by various baroque and classical composers on this CD. The 'main event' is the opening great Toccata and Fugue in D minor, of Walt Disney's 1930s film Fantasia fame. That film really put this masterpiece on the world map, so to speak—popularised it, if that's possible. And in this recording, conductor and orchestra convey the weight and majesty of it, better than any recording I've heard, other than the (dated) original. Maestro Serebrier had worked with old Stoki and truly has a handle on his style.
By David Denton
Fingering through a record catalogue of the 1930s showed just how desperately slender was the thread that kept the name of Johann Sebastian Bach in the international world of music. It was just a handful of musicians who strove to save it from oblivion, one of those being the conductor, Leopold Stokowski, his symphony orchestra adaptations being eventually made famous when Walt Disney used the Toccata and Fugue in D minor as the opening to his famous animated film, Fantasia. Stokowski had spent his early years as an organist in London before moving to New York in that role. At that time it would never have crossed his mind that one day he would be appointed chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, but it was there that he embarked on a series of transcriptions of Bach’s music he had played as an organist. He later moved to Bach’s orchestral works, such as the Arioso from the F minor Harpsichord Concerto, the second track on this disc, and it forms part of the eleven transcriptions here recorded, many, as in Wachet auf and Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring displaying a very light-handed approach. He was also to look at other Baroque composers who had fallen on hard times, and it is the tender adaptation of William Byrd’s Pavane and Gigue that is the undoubted gem of the disc. More familiar today are Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Prelude and the Andante cantabile from the fifth of Haydn’s opus 3 string quartets. The one-time assistant to Stokowski, José Serebrier, takes some liberties in rhythmic pacing, but is a fervent advocate of these works, and that enthusiasm has obviously rubbed-off on the Bournemouth orchestra. Demonstration quality sound.
Leopold Stokowski (1882–1977)
Bach Transcriptions • 2
It was as a young choirboy at the St. Marylebone Parish Church that Leopold Stokowski first played the organ and began to develop his love of Bach’s music. In January 1896, at the age of 13, he entered the Royal College of Music, where he studied alongside Ralph Vaughan Williams. In 1902 he became organist and choirmaster at St James’s, Piccadilly, and three years later took up a similar position at St Bartholomew’s in New York. There he gave spectacular organ recitals while all the time having his eye on becoming an orchestral conductor. He achieved his ambition in 1909 when he was appointed conductor of the Cincinnati Orchestra. Three years later he took charge of the Philadelphia Orchestra and transformed it into one of the world’s greatest. He championed a great deal of new music and gave innumerable American premières of twentieth-century masterworks, such as Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Schoenberg’s Gurrelieder and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
Stokowski began, however, to miss the music of Bach that he had studied during his youth. He doubtless recalled that the organ stops of the instruments he played, both in London and New York, were designated with the names of orchestral instruments. The St Bartholomew’s organ, for example, had its stops marked “violin”, “horn”, “flute”, “trumpet”, and so on, as indeed in their different ways were the organ stops of Bach’s own time. Clearly the organ was a kind of precursor of the modern orchestra so what could be more logical than to transcribe Bach’s organ music for symphonic forces? In the 1920s Stokowski began work on his Bach arrangements, introducing them both in concert and on records, and scoring a brilliant success. He brought music out of the organ loft which, for the audiences of those days, was still quite unfamiliar. Although Stokowski was not the first to make Bach orchestrations he was certainly the most prolific.
For his first Naxos volume of Bach Transcriptions [8.111297], José Serebrier chose as the closing item the mighty Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor. This was Stokowski’s first great organ transcription, given its première in 1922. Now, as an overture to the present selection—and in response to popular and critical demand—we hear the most famous Bach arrangement of all, the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, dating from 1926. Its first recording the following year was hailed by The Gramophone as “a most exciting achievement” and it reached a wide cinema-going public when it was chosen as the opening item in Walt Disney’s Fantasia. Even today it has not lost its power to thrill and as Bernard Herrmann once wrote: “We admit that Bach never heard the Toccata and Fugue in D minor in the way that Stokowski has realised it but Bach must have had that kind of sound in his mind. He certainly did not have the sound of some baroque church organ with a couple of tired little boys trying to pump air in at the back—but rather he must have imagined a great cosmic sound and Stokowski’s transcription is a metamorphosis of that sound.”
Stokowski did not confine himself to organ music when he made his Bach arrangements but covered a wide spectrum which took in cantatas, songs, harpsichord pieces, violin sonatas, and so on. Bach himself often arranged his own music in different ways and the resplendent Arioso we hear next occurs both as the Largoin his Concerto for Harpsichord and Strings in F minor and as the opening Sinfonia to his Cantata No. 156. This is followed by another piece that occurs more than once in Bach’s catalogue: it is an aria for tenor in the Cantata No. 140 Wachet auf and also an organ Chorale Prelude with the same title. Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ is one of Bach’s most beautiful creations, here realised with utmost simplicity for woodwinds and strings. The Adagio from the Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major which follows uses a larger orchestra but equally sparingly.
Stokowski did not always use enormous forces his transcriptions for strings, a heartfelt realisation of a song from Schemelli’s Musical Song Book. This is followed by a stirring version of the old Lutheran chorale Ein feste burg which had its origins in Gregorian chant and again was used by Bach in several of his works. One of his most famous pieces is the ever-popular Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring from the Cantata No. 147 and this is followed by two more string orchestra arrangements: the haunting Prelude in B minor from Book 1 of The Well-Tempered Clavier and the lilting Siciliano from the Sonata No. 4 for Violin and Clavier.
Next comes a sequence of six numbers arranged by Stokowski from music of both the pre- and post-baroque periods as well as from Bach’s own time. Palestrina’s solemn Adoramus te was originally a Motet for Four Voices, while the Pavane and Gigue of William Byrd, the “Father of Musick” in sixteenth-century England, provided Stokowski with two contrasting clavichord pieces which he clothed in sumptuous colours. The piece once famous as “Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary” comes next, though nowadays it is known to be Jeremiah Clarke’s Prince of Denmark’s March. Stokowski changed the title to Trumpet Prelude and in his orchestral treatment displayed just a touch of humour.
Boccherini’s Minuet will be instantly recognised by movie buffs as the music which Alec Guinness and his gang of comic criminals pretended to play while planning a bank robbery in Ealing Films’ The Ladykillers. In a completely different mood comes music by Johann Mattheson, an exact contemporary of Bach though a less well-known composer. His majestic and sonorous Air from the Suite No. 5 for harpsichord is sublimity itself. More music of a delightful character is the Andante cantabile from Haydn’s String Quartet in F major. Stokowski first recorded this in 1929 as 18th Century Dance but it was also once popularly known as Haydn’s Serenade.
Finally we return to J.S. Bach and a brief Fugue in C minor from Book 1 of the The Well-Tempered Clavier. Stokowski works this little harpsichord piece into music of almost Wagnerian proportions which, with their rousing sounds from winds, strings and brass, bring this colourful selection of celebrated transcriptions to a mighty and stirring close.
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