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Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini/ Hamlet
Tchaikovsky, Stokowski, Ny Stadium Symphony
Tchaikovsky: Francesca da Rimini/ Hamlet
Genres: World Music, Special Interest, Classical
  •  Track Listings (18) - Disc #1

It's hot in here! Leopold Stokowski's volatile, batonless hands transform Tchaikovsky's Dante-inspired fantasy into terrifying reality. The venerable maestro doesn't let up in Hamlet either, as he puts his trusty New Yo...  more »


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It's hot in here! Leopold Stokowski's volatile, batonless hands transform Tchaikovsky's Dante-inspired fantasy into terrifying reality. The venerable maestro doesn't let up in Hamlet either, as he puts his trusty New York freelance orchestra through its paces, to staggering results. To cool down, Stokowski favors linear clarity over textural opulence in the Scriabin, abetted by a closely miked Houston Symphony. A disc that blends fire and ice into a potent musical and audiophile brew. Drink up! --Jed Distler

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CD Reviews

As always...
gesegnet | Boise, Id United States | 07/27/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"No christmas would be complete without wonderful music. As always the Vienna boys choir delivers wonderful music for your holiday."
Stokowski puts the pedal to the metal!
dv_forever | Michigan, USA | 06/02/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This conductor was a specialist in sensational, colorful, over the top music. I really like Tchaikovsky's programmatic works, where his extravagant emotionalism is allowed to run wild without the constraints of symphonic form. Leopold Stokowski is the perfect conductor to realize the full intentions of these pieces.

Francesca da Rimini is a piece that is sometimes derided by critics, but what an intense orgasmic work it is! Tchaikovsky in his program music builds on the foundations set down by Franz Liszt, all the while reshaping the symphonic poem into his own brand of music, filled with originality. Lush orchestrations, soaring melodies, extreme expression coupled with manic assault is the stuff that Romantic dreams are made of. I haven't heard a more intense recording of this piece, just listen to the whirlwind strings throughout. The one thing I have to mention is the final moments with the tam tam strikes. The recorded sound is very fine for it's time but lacks the final amplitude of today's digital records, making the tam tam strikes not as overpowering as they can be. Listen to Pletnev's version with the Russian National Orchestra on DG for comparison. Pletnev really strikes that tam tam out of the park! Nonetheless, I take my hat off to Stokowski for his masterful realization of this piece that few conductors can hope to match.

The Hamlet symphonic poem is one that has been far less popular than Francesca da Rimini or Romeo and Juliet and with good reason. It's not as structurally sound or as melodically inspired as those two. But that doesn't matter in Stokowski's capable hands as he wrings the last drop of passion from this score. The only recording that even compares is probably Leonard Bernstein's version with the New York Philharmonic.

The Poem of Ecstasy by Scriabin is hardly one of the best versions. Although Stokowski fawned over the piece, this very colorful music requires lush recorded sound and that's not what we get here. The performance is grand and visionary but Riccardo Muti is superior on EMI with the Philadelphia Orchestra. Muti's performance really brings home the "cocaine ice bath" description of this late-romantic work. In the end, this CD is a must purchase for the Tchaikovsky pieces, which are infused with a rare breed of fire-breathing inspiration I find missing in most of today's conductors. Nothing less than five stars."
Landmark recordings that belie their age
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 02/21/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Stokowski liked to keep up with innovations in recording technology, so he must have been fascinated by the idea of using 35 mm film stock as an audio medium. The results, as evidenced here, are spectacular. Even though the Hamlet dates from 1958, and the other two recordings from around that time, the sound could be mistaken for the best SACD today. It has enormous impact, warmth, and clarity. The works here are all opulent in orchestration, which added to the LP's reputation among audiophiles. The CD sounds just as good in Everest's Super Bit Mapping transfer.

As to the performances, the Francesca da Rimini was once without peer for excitement, but that was before we heard Markevitch and Mravinsky, who trump Stokowski's volatility by going volcanic on the pice. Even so, this is a wonderful reading, not at all excessive, with complete musicality to support the fervid drama.

Hamlet is the most famous item on the program because Stokowski single-handedly rehabilitated one of Tchaikovsky's neglected step-children. The work comes from the period of Sleeping Beauty, when Tchaikovsky was at the peak of inspiration. Not here, though. As a tone poem it suffers from a sprawling structure, too many diffuse elements loosely strung together, and no memorable melodies. Given all those drawbacks--not to mention that the opening theme all but quotes Francesca--Stokowski throws himself into the piece with cinematic conviciton, painting vivd images that surpass the potential of the score, a rare thing. Nobody to my knowledge has come close to this kind of intensity since, and the recording, which is in even better sound than the Francesca, remains a classic. You return to it not for Tchaikovsky'inspiration but for Stokowski's.

The conductor was fond of Scriabin's Poem of Ecstasy, which he rcorded at least three times. This version is beautifully played and recorded, making it the standout. The sonics are close--we are thrown right into the middle of the woodwind section, relishing all of Scriabin's lush coloring, which is about all there is to this restless, nearly neurotic piece. I suppose Scriabin intended a structure--we are told that the work is halfway between a tone poem and a symphony--but he lacked a melodic gift, so you have to cling to his pecuiar slithering harmonies and let the lava pour over you. Stokowski's reading sounds like incidental film music to a sex party of nymphs and satyrs on downers, which must be close to what the composer intended."