AFTER SIX VERY FULL decades of recording, with more than 30 orchestras on more than a dozen labels, Leopold Stokowski is no longer around to add to his incomparable discography. The contract he signed with Columbia Records in 1976 was to come up for renewal on his 100th birthday, in 1982, but he lived long enough to record only five discs for Columbia, four of which have been released now.
Stokowski probably made more premiere recordings than any other major conductor, and surely repeated his favorites more than anyone else (eight recordings of the Firebird Suite , as many as a half-dozen each of several other titles over the years). He was the first conductor to record all four of the Brahms symphonies, and one of the few great ones not to record all the Beethovens. He recorded almost no Mozart or Haydn, very little Schubert, a single Schumann symphony, only one symphony of Dvorak's (but no fewer than six versions of that one), no Bruckner, a single Mahler symphony.
In his last years Stokowski was still adding new titles to his discography as well as remaking works he had done before. He recorded the Mahler Second after he turned 90, and in his last sessions with the National Philharmonic (a pickup group made up of some of London's finest orchestral players) for Columbia, about six weeks after his 95th birthday, he made his first recording of a Mendelssohn Symphony -- the Italian . This will be paired with Stokowski's remake of the Bizet Symphony, taped at the same time, and then there will be no more -- at least not from Columbia.
There are two additional discs, though, with the same orchestra, which Stokowski made for Pye just before he signed his contract with Columbia. Since that English company has no U.S. outlet at present (its recordings have been issued here on Vanguard, Nonesuch, Mercury and other labels in the past), there is no telling when -- or whether -- these will turn up in this country. Their contents again represent a mixture of Stokowski firsts and remakes. both beautifully recorded discs are pressed in compatible "QS" quadro/-stereo, and both programs are available also in cassette form.
The overture package on Pye QSP-CNHX6 (cassette ZCPCNH6) comprises five titles new to the Stokowski discography: Beethoven's Leonore III , Berlioz's Roman Carnival , Mozart's Don Giovanni , Rossini's William Tell and Schubert's Rosamunde .
The intriguing Stokowski Spectacular (Pye QSCNH4, cassette ZCP-CNH4) contains eight remakes -- Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever , the Entr'acte from Mussorgsky's Khovanshchina , the Procession of the Sardar from Ippolitov-Ivanov's Caucasian Sketches , the Serenade from Haydn's F-major Quartet, Op. 3, No. 5 (a work now attributed to Romanus Hofstetter), Saint-Saens's Danse macabre , Brahms's Hungarian Dance No. 1, Tchaikovsky's song Solitude , and the Rakoczy March from Berlioz's Damnation of Faust . The Sousa, Mussorgsky, "Haydn," Brahms and Tchaikovsky are performed in Stokowski's own arrangements.
Also included are one title new to the Stokowski discography -- Chabrier's Espana -- and one that looks like a remake but isn't quite. In earlier recordings, he played Johann Strauss's Tales from the Vienna Woods in truncated form, just enough to fit on a single 78-r.p.m. side; the one recorded here not only includes the lovely introduction and postlude with the zither solo, but includes every possible repeat in the score. It is surely the "most complete" version of this beloved work yet recorded.
With one or two exceptions in the latter collection, all the titles on both discs are standard fare, but only one or two of them are otherwise available in Stokowski versions at present.Since domestic release of these records is so uncertain, impatient devotees may wish to check local shops that carry imports, or consider ordering from a dealer in England. Both discs, in their different ways, are meaningful and enjoyable additions to the unique conductor's already huge discography.