New York Philharmonic Orchestra
Leopold Stokowski - conductor
Dmitri Mitropoulos - conductor Recorded 1950
Source material provided by Edward Johnson from his private collection
Transfer & XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, February 2010
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Leopold Stokowski
The recordings offered here are of particular interest to the Stokowski collector. The Brahms is a considerably more lively rendition than either of the conductor's studio recordings, and as such had particularly caught the ear of Edward Johnson of the Stokowski Society. Also present in the Thomson and Chabrier* are the only two recordings of these works under Stokowski's baton - the former indicating his frequent role as a champion of then-living American composers.
As described below, there are some technical issues with the sound quality at times in this recording which have led to its designation as a Pristine SI release - in this case the recording is perhaps something of a borderline case, but at the time of writing we have been unable to find a better-quality original source and believe that, from a musical perspective it is more than worth the time and effort spent restoring it and remastering it for issue.
As with all our SI issues, we recommend you sample the recording prior to purchase.
*Important notice regarding Chabrier:
Following the release of this recording, which we believed to be a live broadcast, some doubt was raised concerning the performance of the Chabrier. The piece did not appear in the programme for the performance itself, nor is it mentioned in the orchestral archives as having been conducted by Stokowski.
However, two weeks later a performance of this short piece was given, under the baton of Mitropoulos. As a result of extensive investigations undertaken by Edward Johnson, and with the assistance of the conductor and music writer John Canarina (who first raised the question), Nathan Brown and Frederick Fellers, we have managed, we think, to solve the mystery.
Nathan Brown told us:
This was evidently a 1 hour program issued by the Armed Forces Radio Service. They used the original announcers mainly, but when they had to fill out the 1 hour with a short work, they would often just borrow it from any other concert without bothering to say just who the conductor was, or in some cases citing the wrong conductor, as the AFRS announcers were not informed in classical artists. They just thought no one would care or know the difference. Now, with hindsight, and references, we can determine the actual conductor. This happened fairly often.
Frederick Fellers adds more background:
It was common for many of the radio broadcasts of all types from all the radio networks to be recorded, and later slightly edited versions were transferred to 16 inch discs that played at 33 1/3 rpm, and these were sent all over the world to be played by local AFRS stations for U.S. military personnel serving in those foreign parts. In the editing process any commercial messages were removed and spoken commentary may have been edited. It also happened from time to time that a musical selection from a different broadcast was sometimes added to a broadcast that happened at a different time. This may have been done for timing reasons.
Here are some examples that I can speak with some authority because I have the recordings. There was a concert for radio on NBC on 6 January 1945 of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra directed by Fabien Sevitzky. The AFRS version of the same radio concert has exactly the same music, but the spoken commentary has been edited and slightly abbreviated. I have another "broadcast" I acquired from the Library of Congress that was broadcast by the Voice of America on 25 May 1943. It purports to be a live concert from Indianapolis with the applause of the audience and it has a Spanish announcer speaking. However, there was NO concert performance that day. The source of the musical selections was from different ISO-Sevitzky CBS radio broadcasts from 19 November 1942, 11 and 19 February 1943 and 19 March 1943. These were part of the regular weekly ISO-Sevitzky broadcasts on CBS and were done without audience solely for the radio audience. So the 25 May 1943 "concert" was a complete fabrication with audience applause added.
I also have the AFRS version of the NBC Symphony-Toscanini broadcast of 2 September 1945. The AFRS version omits the National Anthem that began the programme and probably also omits some of the spoken announcements. The music, except for National Anthem, is complete as broadcast, but before the final item on the programme, the Dance of Terror and the Ritual Fire Dance from El Amor Brujo are added. These two works came from the broadcast of 3 September 1944, but at least the conductor was the same.
I speculate that your concert of 16 April 1950 may have come from something like the AFRS broadcast recordings mentioned above. James Fassett was the regular announcer of the Philharmonic broadcasts on CBS. At least he certainly was in the later 1950s when I began listening regularly... Sometimes, in the repackaging of the concerts for the AFRS a new announcer did the speaking.
I wouldn't suspect that Mitropoulos would have a problem with this, because these broadcasts were all done for the morale of the military serving overseas, and I doubt any money was involved. Most likely, since this was all done in foreign places, Mitropoulos probably never heard a word -- pro or con -- about it.
A Pristine Audio SI Release: Additional Technical Note
The source recording for this release was a reel to reel copy of an acetate disc recording. The location of the original is currently unknown, if indeed it has survived. Alas the tape copy, believed to have come from Stokowski's assistant Jack Baumgarten and the only one we've been able to find, has suffered its own damage due to "sticky shed" syndrome, resulting in some at-times inconsistent treble response. Fortunately the condition was diagnosed and the tape treated prior to the present transfer in order to prevent further magnetic oxide loss, however some damage had already been done.
The recording is also subject to occasional peak level blasting. It is unclear whether this was caused by the tape or the original discs. Much of this has been tamed, and overall the recording is certainly very listenable. As such, post-restoration it is very much a "borderline" case for the "SI" categorisation - an older recording of the same audio quality would not have been graded in this way. However, there are inconsistencies in it, and the overall quality is perhaps slightly lower than one expect from a 1950 recording.
Virgil Thomson (November 25, 1896 - September 30, 1989) was an American composer and critic from Kansas City, Missouri. He was instrumental in the development of the "American Sound" in classical music. He has been described as a modernist, a neoclassicist, a composer of "an Olympian blend of humanity and detachment"  whose, "expressive voice was always carefully muted," until his late opera Lord Byron which, in contrast to all his previous work, exhibited an emotional content that rises to, "moments of real passion" , and a neoromantic.
Thomson displayed an extraordinary intelligence at an early age. As a child, he befriended Alice Smith, granddaughter of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon faith. He attended Harvard University, and his tours of Europe with the Harvard Glee Club helped nurture his desire to return there. He eventually studied with Nadia Boulanger and became a fixture of "Paris in the twenties." His most important friend from this period was Gertrude Stein, who was an artistic collaborator and mentor to him. Following the publication of his book The State of Music he established himself in New York City as a peer of Aaron Copland and was also a music critic for the New York Herald-Tribune from 1937 through 1951. His writings on music, and his reviews of performances in particular, are noted for their wit and their independent judgments. His definition of music was famously "that which musicians do," and his views on music are radical in their insistence on reducing the rarefied aesthetics of music to market activity. He even went so far as to claim that the style a piece was written in could be most effectively understood as a consequence of its income source.
In the 1930s, he worked as a theater and film composer. His most famous works for theater are two operas with libretti by Gertrude Stein, Four Saints in Three Acts, especially famous for its use of an all-black cast, and The Mother of Us All, as well as incidental music for Orson Welles' Depression-era production of Macbeth, set in the Caribbean. He collaborated closely with "Chick" Austin of Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum in these early productions. His first film commission was The Plow That Broke the Plains, sponsored by the United States Resettlement Administration, which also sponsored the film The River with music by Thomson. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1949 with his film score for Louisiana Story. In addition, Thomson was famous for his revival of the rare technique of composing "musical portraits" of living subjects, often spending hours in a room with them before rushing off to finish the piece on his own. Many subjects reported feeling that the pieces did capture something unique about their identities even though nearly all of the portraits were absent of any clearly representational content.
Later in life, Thomson became a sort of mentor and father figure to a new generation of American tonal composers such as Ned Rorem, Paul Bowles and Leonard Bernstein, a circle united as much by their shared homosexuality as by their similar compositional sensibilities.
Thomson's score for The River was used in the 1983 ABC made-for-television movie The Day After.
Virgil Thomson's personal papers are in a repository at the Archival Papers in the Music Library of Yale University and also additional effects regarding Thomson are included in the Ian Hornak repository at the Smithsonian Institution's Archives of American Art in Washington D.C.