Classical Reissue Reviews

Stokowski conducts 20th Century Music = SCHOENBERG: Verklaerte Nacht; 
BARTOK: Sonata for Two Pianos; GOULD: Dance Variations – Soloists/SF Sym. – Pristine

The death of Arnold Schoenberg in 1951 motivated Leopold Stokowski to record the expanded string sextet Verklaerte Nacht 3 September 1952.

Published on March 10, 2011

Stokowski conducts 20th Century Music = SCHOENBERG: Verklaerte Nacht; 
BARTOK: Sonata for Two Pianos; GOULD: Dance Variations – Soloists/SF Sym. – Pristine

Stokowski conducts 20th Century Music = SCHOENBERG: Verklaerte Nacht, Op. 4; 
BARTOK: Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion; GOULD: Dance Variations – Gerson Yessin and Raymond Viola, pianists/Elayne Jones and Alfred Howard, percussion/Arthur Whittemore and Jack Lowe, duo-pianists/Symphony Orchestra/San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (Gould)/Leopold Stokowski

Pristine Audio 274, 73:59 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] ****:

The death of Arnold Schoenberg in 1951 motivated Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977)–who had consistently championed the composer’s orchestral works while Schoenberg had been living–to record the expanded string sextet Verklaerte Nacht 3 September 1952 in Manhattan Center. Taking as his source the RCA Victor LP LM-1739, restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn revives a truly incandescent sensitive reading of the score, a dramatization in richly Wagnerian terms of Richard Dehmel’s poem of redemptive love. From its D Minor brooding opening, the fierce energy moves the ground-motives in a form established by Schubert and Liszt, a one-movement work that subdivides into organic versions of itself, culminating in a glowing D Major. Agonized passion and melancholy intimacy alternate as the violas and high violins compete for dominance in a fateful drama that even quotes from Massenet’s Thais.

Composed in 1937 for the Swiss section of the International Society for Contemporary Music, the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion by then-expatriate Bartok explores a number of sonorities he had taken on his First Piano Concerto and found to some extent in Stravinsky’s 1923 Les Noces. Bartok has the percussion section active on seven instruments, the combinations of which are “fully equal in rank to the piano parts.”

Stokowski’s wickedly refreshed recording from the Manhattan Center, New York City dates from 27 March and 3 April 1952 (as RCA LP LM 1727). “Explosive” serves as well as any epithet to describe the first movement, whose Allegro molto section–especially the fugato–threatens to dissolve the microphones. The flow of the various sections occurs with such ease that clear divisions of affect become hard to discern. The Lento conforms to the Bartok tradition of “night music,” although that darkness undergoes eerie and harsh illuminations of thunder, lightning, and rain. The tremulous Allegro non troppo finale proceeds in rondo form, earthy and animated, beset by fughettas and counterpoints of disarming color. That the wild and invigorating display ends in C Major seems both ingenuous and ironic of Bartok, to find so “conventional” a point of rest in the midst of imaginative pandemonium.

Among Stokowski’s many “World Premier Recordings” stands his 22 November 1953 inscription of Morton Gould’s 1953 Dance Variations with the Whittemore & Lowe piano duo team (as RCA LP LM 1858). With his usual rhythmic elan, Stokowski invests the opening Chaconne with any number of savvy hip movements, rumbas and sambas just a few Brazilian dance steps among many. The second movement Arabesques concentrates a series of stylized dances into a small space of four-and-one-half minutes: Gavotte, Polka, Quadrille, Minuet, Waltz, and Can-Can. The facile fluency of the movement suggests that Gould could have made an excellent scorer for silent movies, given their quick changes of mood. The Waltz and Can-Can play as parodies of Ravel and Offenbach at furious tempos. The third movement Tango serves a balletic Pas de deux in diaphanous textures, Gould  is sensuously meditative in the manner of Poulenc, whose Two-Piano Concerto Whittemore & Lowe had recorded with Mitropoulos for RCA.

A sprightly Tarantella concludes this brilliant work, the colors here perhaps indebted to Milhaud as much as to Gould’s own penchant for Latin-American energies. The duo pianists’ role sparkles while the woodwinds and virtuosic horn and battery parts keep in tandem with a moto perpetuo dynamism. Somehow, this pounding and infectious music makes me want to score it for the Robert Mitchum vehicle Bandido! with my old friend Henry Brandon.

– Gary Lemco




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