Review By Rob Barnett,MusicWeb International,April 2011
Stokowski and the Fabulous Philadelphians were a partnership made in heaven and remained so until the inevitable rift. During that halcyon period Rachmaninov came to see conductor and orchestra as his collaborators of choice. Indeed this continued undimmed when the orchestra became the long term property of Eugene Ormandy. Stokowski maintained his allegiance even while living his gypsy career from band to band. Stokowski it was who premiered the Rachmaninov Third Symphony and many other works by this composer in Philadelphia.
Review By James Miller ,Fanfare,March 2011
Stokowski conducted the world premiere performances of the Third Symphony in 1936 and never performed it again until 1975 when he made this recording. It does make me wonder if he was much of an enthusiast for the music. One cannot tell from this performance, a display of his ability to exploit the colors of the orchestra and churn up some excitement. One might infer that this was his general approach at the premiere, a performance praised by Rachmaninoff…but I wonder about that, too, given that Rachmaninoff himself got to record the symphony a few years after the premiere and, at least in one respect, his performance is not like Stokowski’s at all. I refer to the second movement, marked Adagio ma non troppo, in which Stokowski seems to give great weight to the non
Review By Nigel Simeone,International Record Review,March 2011
The main item on the second disc, with the National Philharmonic, is Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony. Stokowski gave the world première of this work, but he did not perform it again until these sessions near the end of his life (he handed over the Philadelphia Orchestra to Rachmaninov for the first recording—discussed below). A couple of seemingly contradictory observations need to be made about this: on the one hand there are a few precarious moments of lax ensemble, but on the other I don’t know any recording of this piece (including Rachmaninov’s own) that is as consistently imaginative, or as dazzling at climaxes. Provided you can live with the occasional imprecisions, this is a joyous performance. The Vocalise is lovely and the recorded
Review By Phil Muse,Audio Video Club of Atlanta,January 2011
For a work of its stature, it’s surprising how seldom one encounters Sergei Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 44 in U.S. concert halls and recordings by American orchestras (which by the way is not the case on the other side of the pond). A basic reason was its cool reception when premiered by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra on 6 November 1936. The times, it seems, were out of joint for a work as lush, long limbed (though still considerably more concise than the composer’s Second Symphony of 1909), and darkly and moodily romantic as the Rachmaninov Third. Critic Lawrence Gilman was impressed by the work’s “sweeping cantabile phrases” and its brooding melancholy moods, but he was clearly a minority of one, as the
Almost forty years later in 1975, Stokowski returned to the Rachmaninov Third, this time with the National Philharmonic, a British orchestra created exclusively for recording purposes, and vindicated himself and it completely. At the age of 93 (!), and having neither conducted nor recorded the work in the meantime so that he was obliged to relearn it, he came up with the magnificent performance we hear on the present CD release by Newton Classics. (It was previously released on LP on the Desmar label in 1975 and on CD by EMI in 1999, both of which incarnations I was privileged to review).
Scored for a very large orchestra with expanded woodwinds and brass, the Third Symphony uses all these resources with marvelous economy, so that the BIG climaxes, such as we hear early in the opening movement, coming after a sparsely scored and desolate sounding landscape in the Lento introduction, loom even bigger and more impressive. Brooding silences, contrasted with sweeping passages and overlapping waves of intense emotion, make a profound impression in this work. The long, songlike theme of the opening movement, of a definitely attractive lyrical and plaintive character, is heard later on, to great effect, in a different guise. The families of the orchestra are handled with surprising independence, especially for instruments such as the lower brass that aren’t accustomed to such refreshing treatment. In this performance, Stokowski strikes an ideal balance between control and total abandon, keeping us on the edge of our seats. At a playing time of 39:06 the symphony actually seems much shorter, so rapt are we in the spell that composer and conductor weave.
The filler here is the well-remembered Vocalise, Op. 34, in Rachmaninov’s own transcription. Originally, as the title suggests, a wordless warmup exercise that takes a vocalist (usually a soprano) through the whole range of her tessitura, this work has proved so irresistible it has been transcribed many times for various instruments. In Stokowski’s hands, it conjures up its timeless charm once again.
Review By Robert Stumpf,Classical Net,December 2010
Originally recorded in 1975 at the young age of 93, this is ranked as the only recommended recording of the symphony in American Record Guide’s overview of Rachmaninoff’s music (I’m not taking sides in the debate on the spelling of his name…what appears above is what is on the jacket label of this and the earlier release). That Desmar LP was later issued on EMI 66759 and sounded spectacular. This new release is essentially the same. At times I think it is a tad warmer than the EMI but at other times I think it’s the same. If you have the earlier release I see no need to duplicate it, but if not grab this or maybe send it to your son (as I plan to do).
Review By Infodad.com,November 2010
RACHMANINOV, S.: Symphony No. 3 / Vocalise (National Philharmonic, Stokowski) NC8802024
DVOŘÁK, A.: Serenade / VAUGHAN WILLIAMS, R.: Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis / PURCELL, H.: Dido’s Lament (Royal Philharmonic, Stokowski) NC8802025
There is a different sort of delving into the past in three new Newton Classics releases. This CD company is re-releasing recordings, most of them originally made in analog form, from the middle and latter part of the 20th century. And some of them are very special indeed. Leopold Stokowski’s broadly Romantic conducting style was not to everyone’s taste during his lifetime and will not be so today, but it has to be said that two new recordings made when Stokowski was 93 years old (two years before his death) are fascinating and in many ways quite remarkable. Stokowski conducted the première of Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony in 1936 but then never again led it in public—so his return to the work in 1975 was quite an event. And he makes a strong case for this symphony, emphasizing its very broadly melodic lines and lush, even cloying orchestration. The pacing is deliberate, but not slow, and the National Philharmonic plays willingly and with feeling, if not perhaps with the burnished quality of brass that shows Rachmaninoff at his best. The composer’s orchestration of the well-known Vocalise completes the CD, with Stokowski making the work as expansive and emotional as anyone could wish.
With the Royal Philharmonic, Stokowski in the same year made his first-ever recording of Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings, giving the work a lush and expansive performance that feels rather old-fashioned and a touch heavy-handed, but is certainly quite beautiful in its own way. Vaughan Williams, whose work Stokowski advocated for many decades, is here represented in a beautifully modulated and highly emotive version of Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis that shows Stokowski’s conducting style at its most effective. On the other hand, Stokowski’s overblown orchestration of Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas shows why musical purists have long been uncomfortable with Stokowski’s handling of early music. Whatever else this version may be, and it is certainly lush and broad, it is not Purcell except in more....
Review By Gary Lemco,Audiophile Audition,November 2010
Newton Classics reissues the Leopold Stokowski reading of the Rachmaninov A Minor Symphony (1936) originally issued on Desmar Records and then given a CD incarnation via EMI (CDM 5 66759 2). Even the liner notes by Edward Johnson grace this latest version of this romantic coupling, inscribed 28, 30 April and 1 May 1975, when Stokowski was already 93 years of age.
Review By David Patrick Stearns,The Philadelphia Inquirer,November 2010
The Stokowski recording is one of the conductor’s deathbed efforts—he was 93 in these 1975 sessions—where you put up with some messiness for moments of Stokowski magic. Then there’s the cachet of his having conducted the 1936 world premiere.
Review By John J. Puccio,Classical Candor,October 2010
One of the advantages of being a reviewer is the joy of discovery. Of the many discs I get to audition each month, not all are interesting enough to mention at the site and only a relative few jump out and demand serious attention. Such a recording is Stokowski’s Rachmaninov Third Symphony. The old maestro premiered the work in 1936, but it wasn’t the hit the public expected it to be after the success of the Second Symphony. Stokowski never conducted the piece again until he recorded this performance in 1975, just two years before his death. Originally, I believe the Desmar label released it on LP, and then in 1998 EMI made it available on CD. Now we get it from Newton Classics in what appears to be the same master EMI used. So if you already have it on
I had never heard the recording before EMI sent it to me in ’98, and it was a pleasure hearing it again recently on Newton Classics. It only takes about two minutes of listening to realize that here is something special, an unqualified recommendation with no if’s, and’s, or but’s. The interpretation is, to say the least, highly idiosyncratic (it is Stokowski, after all), and it may not appeal to everyone grown accustomed to a more traditional approach. The Third contains none of the big, memorable themes of Rachmaninov’s more overtly Romantic Second Symphony, one of the reasons it often comes off by comparison as rather humdrum and rambling. At best, say under Previn (EMI) or Ashkenazy (London), conductors have made the Third sound lush, if not always exciting. Under Stokowski, however, the Third takes on new dimensions, imbued with a passion I’ve never found in it before.
I’ve heard it said that in Stokowski’s last years, when he was in his nineties, he never really had much to do with his own recordings, that the recording studio merely propped him up in front of an orchestra to wave his hands and lend his name to the production, and that technicians in a control booth later assembled the real performance. I’d say this recording puts the lie to that contention. No studio technician could have come up with the continuously challenging tempo variations, inflection changes, and rhythmic nuances that Stokowski fashions here.
The first-movement Allegro holds unlimited surprises, the slow-movement Adagio is conservative but committed, and the third-movement Allegro vivace is truly exhilarating. After his first performance of the work, Stokowski had almost forty years to think about it further. Maybe the years helped.
What’s equally important, though, is the disc’s excellent sonic quality, recorded by engineer Bob Auger. There is nothing of the typical studio production about it—nothing of the up-close, ultra-analytical, multi-miked, highly defined, feel-the-air-around-the-instruments characteristics so beloved of hi-fi demo enthusiasts. It merely sounds like a live orchestra. Nor is thmore....