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Leopold Stokowski was born plain Leo Stokes in the East End of London in 1882, and became one of the 20th century’s greatest conductors. He had a huge personality and an eye for the ladies – it was said that his accent moved further east (Russia) the further west (US) he travelled, and it always ensured that he was surrounded by glamorous female admirers: his second wife (of three) was the heiress and designer Gloria Vanderbilt.
He was an outstanding musician, studying at the Royal College of Music, Paris Conservatoire, Munich Conservatory, and was a superb organist, with positions in London and New York. In London in 1905 he was sponsored by Sir Henry Wood, and soon had his own orchestra, the new Cincinnati Symphony. After three years he had the top job at the Philadelphia Orchestra. His musical interests were wide – from movies (he acted in two films), where he brilliantly selected and adapted Bach, Dukas, Beethoven and Stravinsky to Walt Disney’s cartoon masterpiece Fantasia, to working with composers such as Berg, Rachmaninov, Schoenberg, Sibelius, Vaughan Williams and Ives. Charles Ives’s notoriously complex Fourth Symphony received its premiere in 1965 under the baton of an 83-year-old Stokowski.
This recording captures the magic of the Stokowski sound, his meticulous attention to detail, and his skill as an arranger. The Tallis Fantasia was a work he championed from 1926, and his support for the composer continued up to RVW’s death in 1958 with the American premiere of the Ninth Symphony. The Dvorák Serenade on this CD was Stokowski’s first recording (at the age of 93) of the work.
‘Stokowski’s concern for tonal balance brings some radiantly beautiful effects… the RPO strings play most beautifully with rich, ripe tone…As to the sound, this is one of the most resplendent Stokowski records we have had from his last Indian Summer in the studio’ Edward Greenfield, Gramophone
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