STOKOWSKI The Philadelphia Brahms Symphony Cycle (1926-33) - PABX025

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STOKOWSKI The Philadelphia Brahms Symphony Cycle (1926-33) - PABX025

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BRAHMS Symphony No. 1
BRAHMS Symphony No. 2
BRAHMS Symphony No. 3
BRAHMS Symphony No. 4
DVOŘÁK  Symphony No. 9, “From the New World”
LISZT Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2
J STRAUSS II On The Beautiful Blue Danube
J STRAUSS II Tales from the Vienna Woods
WEBER Invitation to the Dance

Victor studio recordings, 1926-1933

The Philadelphia Orchestra
conducted by Leopold Stokowski

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This set contains the following albums:

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STOKOWSKI Brahms: Symphony No. 1 (1927) - PASC500

This release, commemorating the 135th anniversary of Leopold Stokowski’s birth (18 April 1882) as well as the 40th year since his death, is the first in a series which will reissue his recordings of the four Brahms symphonies with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Made over a span of six years (1927 – 1933), they were the first integral set of the works offered on disc.

Brahms’s First Symphony was something of a calling card for Stokowski throughout his career. It featured on his debut program with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1912, and later that year was the main work at his first concert with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He recorded it commercially five times, more than any other Brahms symphony.

The 1927 performance presented here, the first electrical recording of any Brahms symphony, was prefaced by a spoken outline of themes by Stokowski. As with his contemporaneous recording of the Beethoven Seventh (reissued on Pristine PASC 483), Stokowski plays selected illustrations on the piano. Probably because the conductor tended to turn away from the microphone while still speaking in order to play his excerpts, later such recordings used Philadelphia assistant conductors Artur Rodzinski and Sylvan Levin at the keyboard.

Stokowski had recorded the Weber Invitation to the Dance earlier in a cut acoustic version (PASC 192) using Weingartner’s arrangement. For his first electrical recording of the work, he chose the more familiar Berlioz orchestration, but added to it some of his own touches such as having the solo exchanges in the opening played by the entire cello section, and distributing some of the “replies” to the oboe in addition to Berlioz’ clarinet and flute.

The two Strauss waltzes were the first recordings made in the Academy of Music. They utilized a reduced ensemble of only 66 players, and abridged the works to fit to a single side each, as had been the custom in the acoustic days. (It would not be until 1976, a year before his death, that Stokowski would finally record a completely uncut Tales from the Vienna Woods, running 15 minutes long!)

The final work on our program, Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody, was a favorite Stokowski “lollipop” which became progressively more exaggerated over the years (see especially Stokowski’s filmed performance of it in One Hundred Men and a Girl), but never lost its sense of playful fun. The recording heard here shows off the incredible virtuosity of the Philadelphia Orchestra, truly an ensemble which had no superior at the time.

The sources for the transfers were pre-war Victor “Z” pressings for all except the Blue Danube, which came from a Victor “Gold” label copy, and Vienna Woods, which came from a vinyl test pressing. The original Brahms symphony sides were plagued with pitch and volume fluctuations, which I have endeavored to correct here.

Mark Obert-Thorn

STOKOWSKI conducts Brahms and Dvořák (1927-28) - PASC540

It is difficult to believe that it was not until 1921 that the first recording of any portion of a Brahms symphony appeared on disc: the third movement of the Brahms Third Symphony, abridged to one 78 rpm side, and played by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra.  When electrical recording appeared, the conductor went on to pioneer the earliest Brahms symphony cycle, beginning with the First in 1927 (Pristine PASC 500).  

The Third was the next in the series to be recorded.  Like the First, it was the symphony’s première electrical recording; but it was also the work’s first complete recording.  It was hampered in two respects:  by a finale which begins with an unusual (for Stokowski) lack of energy, and only really catches fire toward the end; and by the abrupt and frequent volume level changes imposed by the original engineer.  

“Gain riding” was something of a necessary evil at the time in order to avoid loud passages causing a record to fail the “wear test”; but the recordings Victor made in late 1928 (including Mengelberg’s Ein Heldenleben as well as the present set) took knob twiddling to an irrational extreme, with volume levels suddenly going up and down seemingly at random throughout the set.  Modern technology and painstaking, sometimes note-by-note work in this transfer have finally removed at least the most objectionable of these fluctuations, allowing listeners to hear it in an untampered form for the first time.

Despite its drawbacks, the set remained in the Victor catalogue through the end of the 78 rpm era, even making an appearance on RCA’s Camden LP label in the 1950s.  The reason for both was probably the lack of a Stokowski remake until his Houston Symphony stereo LP appeared in 1959.  While the conductor made several studio recordings of the First and Fourth Symphonies, the Second and Third only have two apiece; but unlike any of the other symphonies, live recordings of Stokowski in this work have not been forthcoming on CD, save for a private release of a 1941 NBC Symphony broadcast.

The Dvořák “New World”, on the other hand, was frequently recorded by Stokowski throughout his career.  The version heard here was already his second electrical recording with the Philadelphians, superseding a 1925 effort with reduced personnel and acoustic-style re-orchestration.  Like some other sets made by Stokowski and the Philadelphians in 1927 (the Beethoven Seventh, Brahms First and Franck Symphonies), it was accompanied in its American release by a separate disc with a discussion of the work spoken by the conductor.  Unlike the Beethoven and Brahms discs in which Stokowski assumed both the speaking and piano-playing roles, the pianist here, uncredited on the original discs, was his Philadelphia assistant, Artur Rodzinski, in his first recording session.

The sources for the present transfers were Victor “Z” pressings for the Brahms (its quietest form of issue) and vinyl test pressings for the Dvořák.  On its original release, the “New World” contained two dubbed sides – Side 2, the second half of the first movement, and Side 3, the first side of the second movement.  I have used an unissued alternate take for the first movement side, but only the dubbed take still exists for the second movement.

Mark Obert-Thorn

STOKOWSKI Brahms Symphonies 2 & 4 (1929/33) - PASC562

This release completes the reissue of the Brahms Symphony cycle by Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra, begun with their 1927 recording of the First Symphony (Pristine PACO 500) and continued with the Third Symphony from the following year (PACO 540). The Second was next to be recorded, followed by the Fourth; but both proved problematic, requiring additional takes ranging from a single side to an entire remake.

After recording the Second Symphony over two consecutive days in April, 1929, Stokowski decided to remake Side 6, the second side of the second movement, eleven months later. Apparently, neither producer nor conductor remembered where the original take began, and the remake started twelve measures late, leaving out nearly a minute of music. Incredibly, no one noticed the missing bars before the recording was released. When the gap was discovered, a take from the earlier sessions was quickly substituted. The remake can be heard as a bonus track in all downloads as well as the free MP3 download package offered with all online CD purchases, while the take from the original sessions is presented within this release.

In his book, Conducting the Brahms Symphonies, critic Christopher Dyment had a mixed verdict regarding the performance, saying that while it contains “a Classically balanced first movement,” it is “succeeded by an overripe Adagio and two further movements markedly lacking in rhythmic lift and forward impetus,” a charge similar to that levied against the last movement of Stokowski’s 1928 Brahms Third. Dyment goes on to note that Stokowski later revised his approach to the last three movements: “[T]he 1950 New York Philharmonic [issued on Pristine PASC 215] and Bavarian Radio broadcasts replace the early, somewhat turgid style with something altogether fleeter and, in the finale, with a drive that tests both orchestras to their limits.”

More successful as an interpretation was Stokowski’s approach to the Brahms Fourth; but here, he was undercut by substandard recorded sound. During the early years of the Depression, Victor recorded the Philadelphia Orchestra in a Camden, New Jersey church converted to a studio in order to avoid having to rent the Academy of Music. Reduced forces were used, cutting the strings from 18-18-12-12-10 to 6-6-4-5-3. By 1934, sessions were held in the larger area of the church’s nave, listed on the ledgers as “Church Studio No. 2”; but in the period from 1931 through 1933, most were made in what orchestra harpist Edna Phillips’ described to her biographer as “a Sunday school room on the second floor,” devoid of reverberation (which has been added in this transfer).

Added to this is another anomaly. The Fourth Symphony had initially been recorded in April, 1931 on 14 10-inch sides. Album number M-108 was allocated to this version, but it was apparently never released. (Transfers of this version from test pressings have been issued on LP and CD.) Nearly two years later, the present recording was made in the same venue, with similarly reduced forces. While Stokowski would go on to re-record the Second Symphony only once in 1977, at the very end of his career, he made two further recordings of the Fourth, one with the All-American Youth Orchestra in 1940, and a second with the New Philharmonia, following its appearance in his final London concert in 1974.

Mark Obert-Thorn

Click below to expand track listing:
STOKOWSKI Brahms: Symphony No. 1 (1927) - PASC500

1. Outline of Themes from Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 (3:55)

Recorded 30 April 1927 in the Victor Studios, Camden, New Jersey
Matrix no.: CVE 38606-1 ∙ First issued on Victor 6657

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68

2. 1st Mvt. – Un poco sostenuto – Allegro (12:36)
3. 2nd Mvt. – Andante sostenuto (8:30)
4. 3rd Mvt. – Un poco allegretto e grazioso (4:24)
5. 4th Mvt. – Adagio – Allegro non troppo ma con brio (15:18)

Recorded 25 – 27 April 1927 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Matrix nos: CVE 37483-2, 37484-2, 37485-2, 37486-1, 37487-2, 37488-2, 37489-1, 37490-2, 37491-1 & 37492-2
First issued on Victor 6658 through 6662 in album M-15

6. WEBER (orch. Berlioz/Stokowski): Invitation to the Dance, Op. 65 (8:26)

Recorded 2 May 1927 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Matrix nos.: CVE 37495-1 & 37496-2 ∙First issued on Victor 6643

7. J. STRAUSS II: On the Beautiful Blue Danube – Waltz, Op. 314 (4:20)

Recorded 10 June 1926 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Matrix no.: CVE 22825-6 ∙ First issued on Victor 6584

8. J. STRAUSS II: Tales from the Vienna Woods – Waltz, Op. 325 (4:33)

Recorded 10 June 1926 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Matrix no.: CVE 35182-3 ∙ First issued on Victor 6584

9. LISZT (orch. Müller-Berghaus): Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 (7:59)

Recorded 18 November 1926 and 10 March 1927 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Matrix nos.: CVE 37002-2 & 37003-7 ∙ First issued on Victor 6652

The Philadelphia Orchestra ∙ Leopold Stokowski

Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Total timing: 70:03

STOKOWSKI conducts Brahms and Dvořák (1927-28) - PASC540


BRAHMS:  Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90
1. 1st Mvt.:  Allegro con brio – Un poco sostenuto – Tempo I (9:48)
2. 2nd Mvt.:  Andante (10:31)
3. 3rd Mvt.:  Poco allegretto (5:51)
4. 4th Mvt.:  Allegro – Un poco sostenuto (9:20)
Recorded 25/26 September 1928 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Matrix nos.:  CVE 46463-1A, 46464-1A, 46465-1A, 46466-1, 46467-2, 46468-1A, 46469-2A, 46470-2A, 46471-2A & 46472-2
First issued on Victor 6962 through 6966 in album M-42

5. Outline of Themes from Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 (4:03)
Leopold Stokowski (speaker)
Artur Rodzinski (pianist)
Recorded 6 October 1927 in the Victor Studios, Camden, New Jersey
Matrix no.:  CVE 40401-2
First issued as Victor 6743 in album M-1

DVOŘÁK:  Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 “From the New World”
6. 1st Mvt.:  Adagio – Allegro molto (8:46)
7. 2nd Mvt.:  Largo (12:08)
8. 3rd Mvt.:  Scherzo (Molto vivace) (7:23)
9. 4th Mvt.:  Allegro con fuoco    (10:44)
Recorded 5 & 8 October 1927 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Matrix nos.:  CVE 32802-4, 32803-4, 33290-6, 33291-6, 33292-5, 33293-4, 33294-3, 33297-4, 33296-3 & 33295-3
First issued as Victor 6565 through 6569 in album M-1

The Philadelphia Orchestra ∙ Leopold Stokowski

Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer:  Mark Obert-Thorn
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Leopold Stokowski

Total duration:  78:34

STOKOWSKI Brahms Symphonies 2 & 4 (1929/33) - PASC562


Symphony No. 2
Symphony No. 4

Victor Studio Recordings ∙ 1929 & 1933

BRAHMS Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73
1. 1st Mvt. - Allegro non troppo (14:38)
2. 2nd Mvt. - Adagio non troppo (10:34)
3. 3rd Mvt. - Allegretto grazioso (quasi andantino) (6:12)
4. 4th Mvt. - Allegro con spirito (9:58)

Recorded 29-30 April 1929 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Matrix nos.: CVE 47951-3, 47952-2, 47953-2, 47954-2, 47955-3, 47956-2 47957-2, 47959-1, 47960-2, 47961-2, 47962-2 & 47963-4
First issued on Victor 7277/82 in album M-82

BRAHMS: Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98
5. 1st Mvt. - Allegro non troppo (11:19)
6. 2nd Mvt. - Andante moderato (11:39)
7. 3rd Mvt. - Allegro giocoso (6:03)
8. 4th Mvt. - Allegro energico e passionato (9:31)

Recorded 4 March and 29 April 1933 in Church Studio No. 1, Camden
Matrix nos.: CS 75162-1, 75163-1, 75165-1, 75167-2, 75168-1, 75169-1, 75171-1, 75172-1, 75174-2 & 75175-2
First issued on Victor 7825/9 in album M-185

The Philadelphia Orchestra
conducted by Leopold Stokowski

Producer and Audio Restoration Engineer: Mark Obert-Thorn
Total duration: 79:54