Leopold Stokowski was a close friend and champion to many composers, especially the Russians who where exiled in the USA after the revolution. Chief among them were Stravinsky and Rachmaninov. The US premiere of The Rite of Spring was conducted by Stokowski, and in 1920 the US premiere of Rachmaninov’s choral symphony ‘The Bells’ was given by Stokowski, who together with the composer had premiered the revised version of the first Piano Concerto.
It was natural that when Rachmaninov completed his Third Symphony in 1935, Stokowski would give the premiere, which took place on 6 November 1936. Although the work is the composer’s orchestral masterpiece, it was met with a lukewarm reception, and Stokowski never conducted it again in public. Rachmaninov’s music seemed in danger of falling out of favour, and the appalling Grove 5th edition entry on the composer may well have coloured Stokowski’s decision to reduce the number of the composer’s works he programmed.
However, at the age of 93 Stokowski returned to the studio, and to his friend’s Third Symphony with an orchestra of hand-picked London musicians. The recording is a remarkable achievement. Stokowski proved that he had new things to say about this masterpiece, and the performance bristles with excitement and tension.
‘I simply make music, and people have always been foolish enough to pay me for it. I never told them that I would have done it all for nothing.’ Leopold Stokowski, CBS TV 1976
‘In the case of Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony, there is the purely historical advantage of having a generally well-engineered stereo recording by the man who had conducted the world premiere back in 1936’ Gramophone review, July 1998
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.