July 2007

Brahms - Serenade No. 1 in D; Dawson - Negro Folk Symphony; Hindemith - Octet; Prokofiev - Quintet; Swanson - Night Music
Symphony of the Air and American SO, Leopold Stokowski conducting;
Philharmonic Scholarship Winners, Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting
Deutsche Grammophon 289 477 6502
Format: CD
Originally Released: 1950 and 1956
Reissue Released: 2007

by Richard Freed

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

While I suspect this two-disc compilation came about simply because the two Stokowski items -- the only titles shown on the cover -- would not quite fit on a single CD, a very persuasive case is made here for combining all the recordings both he and Mitropoulos made for the American Decca label. Though utterly different in their personal styles, they shared certain traits and enthusiasms; they also shared the podium of the New York Philharmonic at the time Mitropoulos recorded his portion of this set.

The Brahms Serenade, in one of the last recordings by the veterans of Toscanini’s NBC SO who tried to keep that orchestra alive under the name Symphony of the Air, is notable for Stokowski’s exceptional lightness of texture and his emphasis on lyricism. Stokowski gave the premiere of William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony in Philadelphia in 1934 and continued to perform it after Dawson revised the score in 1952; in 1963 he chose this work for his first recording with his newly formed American Symphony Orchestra. The performance is a good deal more idiomatic than Neeme Järvi’s more recent one with the Detroit SO on Chandos, and the stereophonic sound is quite good in both Stokowski items.

The Dawson shares the second disc with music by another 20th-century black American composer, Howard Swanson's Night Music. None of the chamber works included here really requires a conductor; Mitropoulos generously took part to show support for the Philharmonic Scholarship Winners, whose playing is consistently fine. The 1950 monophonic sound is better than ever in Ingmar Haas’s splendid transfers, as exemplified particularly in the vivid presence and fullness of David Weber’s clarinet in the Prokofiev and Swanson pieces.