Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Stokowski conducts Handel and Bach

   During the early music period conductor was not a necessary person. Some gestures needed to start and finish together were given by the leader of the ensemble, who often was also the composer of a work and musical entrepreneur. Conductor became common person in classical music, after transition from baroque orchestra to classical symphonic orchestra. Substantial difference was not in set of instruments, but in the musical texture. Since in Mannheim school musical sentences were divided into small motifs and performed by different instruments, there was someone needed for every such moment, especially in symphonic forms. The result was the emergence of further opportunities and the development of massive symphonic sound in late romantic music. Performance of romantic music without a conductor was unthinkable, and for most symphonic music since Beethoven it would be a catastrophe. And these were circumstances of raising the role of conductors in modern concert life, up to the rank of the creator equal to composer.
   Among legendary conductors of 20th century one of most respected artists was Leopold Stokowski. He was born in 19th century, most probably in 1882, but he himself was giving different dates and places of his birth – from Cracow to Pomerania. However there are documentary evidences he was born in London. He studied in Royal College of Music since he was thirteen. After receiving Bachelor of Music degree in 1903, he immigrated to New York in 1905 and three years later he started conducting Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. He was thirty years old when in 1912 he became director and conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Four years later he led Philadelphia Orchestra and Choruses during sensational American premiere of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony of a Thousand.

Leopold Stokowski conducts Handel and Bach (1977)

   Most striking feature of the Stokowski’s craft was conducting without a baton, in the choirmaster manner. He was explaining this way he is able to shape the sound more effectively. Indeed, his interpretations were famous for superior sound quality. Starting from positions of English romanticism, he was one of the most important conductors giving baroque music its modern quality. In fact he was under the strong influence of English performing tradition. In opposite to other countries, in England baroque music was alive, and compositions of Georg Frederic Handel were constantly in school teaching and in concert repertoire. This was great basis for Stokowski’s artistic development. And recordings of Handel’s most popular compositions belong to his great achievements.
   Georg Frederic Handel’s suites were always Stokowski’s showpiece. First recordings of these works he made on shellac discs in 1934. In 1962 with RCA Victor Symphony Orchestra he recorded the two Handel’s suites and album published by RCA became one of best sellers. In 1977 RCA label published double album of two baroque giants in series titled “Meister spielen Meister”. First record is Georg Friedrich Handel’s Music For The Royal Fireworks and Water Music Suite. Perfect renditions with clearly stable strings and bright brass were exemplary orchestral performance. The same with second part of 1977 album, it was 1975 recording of Johann Sebastian Bach transcriptions: Chaconne from Partita No. 2 D Minor, Preludio from Partita No. 3 E Major, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott, Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 D Major, Fuge G Minor (Kleine) BWV 578, Sinfonia from Kantate Ich steh’ mit einem Fuß im Grabe BWV 156, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme BWV 645, Komm sel’ge Ruh BWV 478. This time perfect sound was receoived from London Symphony Orchestra. The same 1977 was the year great conductor passed by. Transcribing baroque music for symphony orchestra was one of Stokowski’s achievements, but this demands at least new post.

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