September 2005

Stokowski Transcriptions - Mussorgsky: Night on Bald Mountain; Khovanshchina - Entr’acte; Boris Godunov - Symphonic Synthesis; Pictures at an Exhibition; Tchaikovsky: Humoresque; Solitude; Traditional: Slavic Christmas Music
Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, José Serebrier cond.
Naxos 8.557645
Format: CD
Released: 2005

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

The great conductor Leopold Stokowski (1882-1977) made numerous remarkable orchestral transcriptions of keyboard and vocal works (mostly Bach’s) and "symphonic syntheses" of operas (mostly Wagner’s), and in the last couple of decades several of his latter-day podium colleagues have begun performing them. In 1995 and ’96 Oliver Knussen conducted the Cleveland Orchestra in recordings of all four of Stokowski’s Mussorgsky transcriptions, but Deutsche Grammophon did not release them until last year -- at about the time José Serebrier recorded them for the new Naxos CD now at hand.

Serebrier was a fine choice for this project, underwritten by the Leopold Stokowski Society and the BSO Endowment Trust; he counts Stokowski as one of his significant mentors (the others being Doráti, Monteux and Szell), and his enduring admiration for him is reflected in these characterful performances. By not attempting to copy those that Stokowski himself recorded Serebrier refutes the notion that these transcriptions had no validity beyond serving as "vehicles" for that legendary figure. He draws first-rate playing from the Bournemouth SO; the three little encores are quite appealing, and the sound, with the gain boosted just a bit, is rich, full, and well balanced.

The only flaw is in the printed track listing, which reverses the actual sequence of the two Tchaikovsky pieces. That does not affect listening pleasure, of course, and it’s something that can easily be remedied in a second printing if this modestly priced release sells as well as it ought to.