Stokowski’s Binaural Sound

0 of 5 stars

The Taking of T’uang Kuan
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64
Má vlast – Tábor

Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Leopold Stokowski

Mercury Symphony Orchestra (sic)
Rafael Kubelík [Smetana]

Stokowski items recorded on 20 November 1952 in Masonic Hall, Detroit; Smetana recorded on 6 December 1952 in Orchestra Hall, Chicago

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: January 2007
Duration: 65 minutes

The story is that these stereo tapes, made in 1952 by Bert Whyte and among the first examples of stereophonic recording to emanate from the United States, were passed to Jack Baumgarten, Stokowski’s assistant, and then to Stokowski aficionado Edward Johnson; Johnson passed them to Mark Obert-Thorn who has performed another of his superbly painstaking transfers for this estimable release.

Obert-Thorn continues his interesting tale by relating that there was a slight time-delay between the two channels, which he has corrected; and he has also added warmth to the sound, too; what results sounds anything but artificial and one has the sense that Whyte’s achievement is presented to us as would have been intended.

The ‘Stokie’ items are from a Detroit Symphony concert. The short piece by Jacob Avshalomov is colourful, intense and exotic and gets a powerful and glowing performance, which the recording does not compromise. The Tchaikovsky receives a volatile and well-timed account, quite one of the best renditions I have heard from Stokowski, full of life and passion, the Detroit strings really ‘singing’ and the whole orchestra caught up in an emotional and spontaneous outpouring; fluctuations of pace are, for the most part, convincing, and Stokowski brings an unforced ebb and flow to proceedings, the sound satisfyingly full and present, and the conductor’s flamboyance being at-one with the music. The slow movement (with a slightly fluffed horn solo) is the antithesis of indulgence and the ‘Valse’ has a dancing springiness to it with a nimble contrast at its centre. Applause greets the first movement and the middle two movements are ‘attached’ – one wonders if ‘Stokie’ carried on to avoid disruptive applause or Obert-Thorn has edited clapping away. The finale, after the ‘slow’ introduction, is initially quite trenchant and then speeds up to a more ‘normal’ tempo. Stokowski’s penchant for ‘altering’ things is apparent in the cutting of the pause before the coda (an unconvincing piece of interfering) and the trumpets’ domination during the final pages seems as-conducted rather than as-engineered. Some further Stokie ‘touches’ also detract; but, overall, there is more to admire and be ‘hooked’ by than not.

The Rafael Kubelík inclusion is because the tape of ‘Tábor’ was labelled as being Stokowski’s work and is now verified as having been made during Mercury’s sessions for Má vlast with the Chicago Symphony (here ‘Mercury Symphony’!) and Kubelík that was recorded and issued in mono. Kubelík had a wonderful understanding of this music (he recorded Má vlast complete five times, the Chicago version being the first) and this ‘experimental stereo’ Tábor (the fifth of the six Má vlast symphonic poems) is an impressive document in terms of sound – wide and deep, and the performance is terrific and really vibrates through the loudspeakers. Edward Johnson has supplied an extensive note for the booklet (Music & Arts’s presentation is exemplary and includes further Stokowski memorabilia) and reveals that Bert Whyte was also active at other Mercury/Kubelík ‘mono’ sessions and that these tapes are known to still exist. Hopefully, Music & Arts can circulate them.

All in all, then, a fascinating release brought off in fine style, one that should have great appeal to admirers of these conductors, and to record collectors and audiophiles.

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