Leopold Stokowski died three years ago, but Columbia (some of whose releases still emerge under that name instead of the newer "CBS") issued what is apparently the last of its Stokowski material only recently. It is a performance of Brahms' Second Symphony with the National Philharmonic Orchestra, and the package includes the Tragic Overture as filler (M-35129; cassette MT-35129).
Stokowski was the first conductor to record all four of the Brahams symphonies some 50 years ago with the Philadelphia Orchestra. The Second was the last he remade in stereo; the London sessions that produced this recording took place in April 1977, the month in which he turned 95. While some of his other valedictory recordings are so highly charged that one might suspect he was determined to show his age had not slowed him down, this one has a soft radiance and a pervasive mellowness that suit the score well and make it seem an especially apt choice for what proved to be the conductor's farewell.
Sir Adrian Boult, Istvan Kertesz and Pierre Monteux all took the big first movement repeat in their recordings of this work, but few other conductors have done so, and Stokowski was not one of them. Given the ruminative, relatively low-key character of his reading, the movement might have seemed overlong with the repeat; as it stands it seems ideally poised. The two inner movements, too, are less emphatic than we have grown accustomed to hearing them -- the second quite agreeably understated, the pastoral character of the third set in a twilight frame rather than the brightness of midday -- and there is nothing jolting or hell-for-leather in the finale, which is allowed to unfold expansively and build to a dignified climax.
There is more tautness in the Tragic Overture, a work Stowoski had not recorded before. It is taken a bit more briskly than the current norm, and entirely to tis benefit. The feeling of breadth that Brahms wrote into the piece is in no way contravened; the fluidity Stokowski imparted simply keeps the music alive, insured against stodginess, and makes for an unusually convincing statement. Not an indispensable record, perhaps, but a most attractive one: a warm-hearted leavetaking, utterly free of gratuitous gestures, on the part of one of the most remarkable practitioners of the conductor's art.
In the same release from Columbia was a Dvorak package performed by the Philharmonia Orchestra under Andrew Davis containing the Symphony No. 8 in G and the Carnival Overture (M 35865; cassett MT-35865). There have been a lot of Dvorak Eighths in the last year or so, among them one by Colin Davis and remakes by both Karajan and Giulini. Davis' is far and away the most persuasive of this new lot, simply because his interpretation is the closest to the classic Bruno Walter version.
But with the Walter recording still available, still sounding as handsome as ever and priced $3 less, there would have to be a stronger argument than the inclusion of the Carnival Overture to motivate a prospective purchaser in favor of the new release. It is not that Davis is in any way disappointing, or that his performance doesn't give a great deal of pleasure; it is just that Walter somehow remains fresher, more exuberant, more committed, more loving.
MCA Westminister has reissued the first of the trumpet collections made by Roger Oisin for Kapp records about 20 years ago. This one (MCA-1417) was originated by the short-lived American Unicorn label and then passed on to Kapp. It includes the Haydn Concerto, a Vivaldi concerto for two trumpets, the "Prince of Denmark's March" by Jeremiah Clarke, and three pieces by Purcell. This is not a very distinguished record, but it is hartening to think that its appearance is to be followed by the return of the later and more interesting assortments in Kapp's trumpet series.