More than any other conductor I know of, Leopold Stokowski wedded his musical art to modern audio techniques, from rearranging the seating of the symphony orchestra to exhibiting an informed and intimate knowledge of the acoustics and mechanics of recording. It was said that he spent as much time in the control booth as on the podium. It was no accident that he experimented with multichannel sound long before most of us had heard of stereo, when the only concept of a "channel" was that of body of water.
Browsing through my record collection recently. I was struck by the number of Stokowski productions that, over the years. had become special listening - test material because of their sonic excellence. Even more surprising is how many of them still stand up acoustically when reproduced over a stereo system that is, by comparison with older rigs, considerably more sensitive and powerful.
For starters take his performance of the Shostakovich Symphony No. 11, recorded with the Houston Symphony in 1957 to Capitol and still available on the Seraphim label (S - 60228). The entire record challenges a stereo system to its dynamic and frequency limits, but the most spectacular section probably comes in the last movement with the awesome display of string bass tone that can either show off or show up the woofer in your speaker system.
The Shostakovich Sixth he did for RCA with the Chicago Symphony (LSC - 3133) in 1970 is no longer listed in Schwann, but I can't imagine why.the sound is full - bodied while also completely revealing of every inner musical line and instrumental detail. This album also is one of the relatively few really great Dynagroove releases.
In the late 1960s Stokowski also recorded for London (SPC 21031) the Berlioz "Symphonie fantastique." This is still one of the best examples of the "Phase 4" technique involving multi - channel takes that, for all the finaling multi - channel takes that, for all the final two - channel mixdown, still conveys an impressive sense of spaciousness and depth.
Another early Capitol triumph, also available on Seraphim (S - 60175), is the maestro's version of "The Planets" by Holst - this time with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the women's voices of the Roger Wagner chorale. The full nuances of the orchestra may have been since equaled but hardly surpassed. Another Seraphim reissue (S - 60089) worth adding to any stereo library is Stokowski's performance with the Houston Symphony of the Gilere Symphony No. 3, "Ilya Mourometz."
Active to the end, Stokowski had recently signed with Columbia. Two of his last albums I have just heard are Bizet's "Carmen" Suites 1 and 2, plus "L'Arlesienne" Suites 1 and 2 (XM 34503), and a collection of "Great Transcriptions" (M 34543). It is obvious from hearing these releases that age meant nothing to Stokowski. Tonalities are strong but never strident; orchestral color is more dazzling than ever. Remarkably quiet disc surfaces allow a full dynamic range to be reproduced, with no distortion in the loudest passages and no tonal dropout during the softest sections, assuming, of course, your stereo system can oblige.