05 - Parsifal - Symphonic Synthesis from Act III.flac
04 - Tristan und Isolde - Symphonic Synthesis, Liebestod.flac
03 - Tristan und Isolde - Symphonic Synthesis, Liebesnacht.flac
02 - Tristan und Isolde - Symphonic Synthesis, Prelude to Act I.flac
01 - Das Rheingold - Entrance of the the Gods into Valhalla.flac
Wagner-Stokowski Symphonic Syntheses
Release Date: 09/25/2007
Label: Naxos Catalog #: 8570293
Composer: Richard Wagner
Conductor: José Serebrier
Orchestra/Ensemble: Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
It would be hard to imagine a more sumptuous disc. Stokowski, in these "symphonic syntheses", enhances Wagner's already opulent orchestration with shrewdly added instrumental lines and with the vocal parts usually given to the strings. Then at times he thins the orchestration down for more transparent textures. José Serebrier conducts the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in thrilling performances, passionate in a genuinely Stokowskian manner and treated to orchestral sound of demonstration quality.
Stokowski's aim was to provide more satisfying orchestral items in concerts than the popular "bleeding chunks". So in the most ambitious item, on Tristan und Isolde, we have between the Prelude and Liebestod a rich orchestral version of the 2nd Act Love Duet. Where the end of the duet builds up to that chilling interruption from King Marke, Stokowski has it lead seamlessly into the equivalent passage in the Liebestod. It works superbly.
The selection starts excitingly with the Entry of the Gods into Valhalla and it is good to find Serebrier splendidly adding an anvil when Donner brings his hammer down. The Parsifal synthesis is limited to music from Act 3, thus ignoring the Good Friday Music. From Die Walkure comes the Magic Fire Music and, most excitingly, the Ride of the Valkyries. This is Naxos third Stokowski orchestrations disc and is the finest yet.
-- Edward Greenfield, GRAMOPHONE
This new release follows on last year’s brilliant album of Stokowski Bach transcriptions (Naxos 8.557883) produced by the same team. The opening track sets the tone of the album. It will come as no surprise that Stokowski’s view of Das Rheingold’s final scene is gutsy and spectacular – out-Wagnering Wagner. The conductor’s enriched brass and percussion heighten Wagner’s colouring. The Bournemouth players must have had so much fun recording its sweep and grandeur, and the vivid evocations of the rainbow bridge across the valley of the Rhine. Throughout this album, they are backed by excellent engineered sound.
Tristan was one of Stokowski’s favourite works. His expressive symphonic synthesis accents all the lovers’ despair and ecstasy. The symphonic synthesis consists of Wagner’s own concert version of the Prelude and Liebestod interpolating between them the music of the Liebesnacht from the second act; Stokowski’s intent to create an extended seamless symphonic poem. He did not alter Wagner’s scoring but limited his input to transferring the vocal lines to instrumentation: cellos for Tristan and violins for Isolde. The Liebesnacht occupies some 21 minutes of the 36½-minute whole and embraces music of the hunt nicely caught in distant perspective and a lovely nocturnal evocation of trees swaying gently in the sylvan woodlands underlining the lovers’ awakening and mounting passion. Serebrier invests a fragrant and voluptuous sensuality to match the unbridled passion of the celebrated Liebestod that follows and where its mounting excitement is literally edge-of-the-seat stuff; little wonder that this music is so often regarded as the sexiest in all the classical repertoire.
In spite of his life-long championship of the music of Wagner, Stokowski conducted only one Wagner opera in its entirety, a concert performance of Parsifal during Easter 1933. He spoke of his synthesis of Act 3 thus: “I have tried to [communicate] the idea of [the] profound perception on Parsifal’s part of the mysteries of which the Holy Grail is a symbol and of which the outward manifestations are, first, Parsifal’s initiation, and then his acceptance by the Knights, and finally the acknowledgement of him as their leader.” The synthesis excludes the Good Friday Spell music - Wagner had already made a concert version of it - but includes the transformation music from the conclusion of the final moments when Parsifal heals Amfortas’s wound by touching it with his spear. This is a spellbinding and uplifting treatment.
From Die Walküre comes familiar music, magnified in colour and thrills. Need I say more!
José Serebrier, who contributes the concise, readable and erudite notes, was, for five years, Stokowski’s Associate Conductor at New York’s Carnegie Hall and was hailed by Stokowski as “the greatest master of orchestral balance”. Serebrier’s readings are studied: meticulous attention paid to orchestral colour, detail, perspectives, clarity, transparency, dynamics, accents and phrasing.
Repeating the assertion in my review of Serebrier’s recording of the Stokowski Bach transcriptions, this album is one of the best packaged of Naxos’s releases mostly, I suspect, because the recording was “made possible through generous grants from the Leopold Stokowski Society and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra Endowment Trust”. In addition to Serebrier’s notes, there is a contribution, “Stokowski and Wagner” by Edward Johnson of the Leopold Stokowski Society, and reproductions of three letters, dating from 1964/65, from Stokowski to Serebrier, one of which includes this cheeky remark: “Thank you also for sending a very pretty flute girl. More please!”
Ravishing performances of Stokowski’s sumptuous take on Wagner. This album will undoubtedly figure in my list of outstanding releases for 2007. Don’t miss this one.
-- Ian Lace, MusicWeb International
José Serebrier continues his series of Stokowski transcriptions with this all-Wagner program. The outstanding item is the "Symphonic Synthesis" from Tristan and Isolde, which consists of the Liebesnacht sandwiched in between the more familiar Prelude and Liebestodt. Serebrier continues to amaze in his ability to conjure a remarkably lush string tone from his Bournemouth forces, and the performance really does capture that Stokowskian sheen more successfully than any other series dedicated to the maestro's transcriptions (think Bamert on Chandos, for example).
But if Serebrier does better than most of the modern competition, he still has Stokowski himself to contend with. The Entry of the Gods into Valhalla faces stiff competition from Stokowski's Phase 4 Decca version, while the Magic Fire Music (absent Wotan's Farewell) never has been better than in Stoki's demented Everest rendition (now available from Arkivmusic.com "on demand"). In both cases Serebrier misses some of the glitz and glamour, especially from the harps, despite the big, fat sonority of the brass section. In the "Entry" he's also fractionally too slow.
Stoki's Parsifal Act 3 Symphonic Synthesis also can be found on the same Everest disc with the Magic Fire Music, but here Serebrier is every bit as persuasive, and much more naturally recorded. There are no "special effects" in this piece, and so we can appreciate all the more just how successfully these Bournemouth players recapture Stokowski's unique timbral vocabulary. So although this latest release doesn't quite rise to the exalted level of its predecessors, it's still extremely fine, and further evidence of the power the conductor has over the sound the orchestra makes. It's common today to hear people complain that orchestras all sound more or less the same, but as Serebrier makes clear, so do conductors, and they have less excuse.