Robert Cowan makes his pick of the latest reissues; Stokowski: Russian Masterworks NBC Symphony Orchestra / Leopold Stokowski (Recorded: 1941-1942) (Cala CACD 0505)
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
When Stokowski conducted Toscanini's orchestra, it was as if he'd transformed a gleaming athlete into a highly strung Diva. The sheer lustre of The Firebird Suite's "Berceuse" suggests doe eyes rather than Diaghilev, though a lightning-quick "Kastchei's Dance" pushes the NBC players to the limits of their considerable virtuosity and an alarming cut in the finale (no offence to me, I have to say) reminds us that the man on the rostrum was wont to take the musical law into his own hands.

Rimsky-Korsakov's Russian Easter Festival Overture - another top-speed reading - features a macho bass voice (Nicola Moscona) in place of the expected trombone solo; there's a rowdy Love of Three Oranges March (Prokofiev), a charming Tchaikovsky Humoresque (better-known either as a piano solo or in the context of Stravinsky's Fairy's Kiss ballet), and a performance of Tchaikovsky's Fourth that is both less disruptively doctored and more viscerally exciting than Stokowski's notorious Philadelphia recording of 13 years earlier (Pearl). OK, there are some violent gear-changes, wild accelerations, over-ripe string slides and a couple of "minor" cuts; but the sum effect spells an urgent, albeit highly coloured, response to one of the repertory's greatest symphonies. The digital re-mastering is excellent.

Mystic - The Musical Visions of Olivier Messiaen

Soloists and Orchestra of the Opera Bastille / Myung-Whun Chung

(Recorded: 1978-1994)

(DG 449 377-2)

Cheaper than a spacecraft and more accessible than the stars, this superb CD conjures up a world so utterly remote from our own that, heard next to it, even Mozart and Beethoven sound conventionally terrestrial. The word "mystic" can suggest a multitude of signs, but DG's celestial compilation - an ingenious concept, expertly realised - offers generous representation of a composer whose high- altitude inspirations will connect with anyone attuned to the idea of "the Beyond".

The opening "Vocalise" is, in a sense, both a beginning and an end in that it draws on material that Messiaen composed in 1935 and was included in his very last work. Then there's the extrovert delirium of "Joy of the Blood of the Stars" and the verdant "Garden of Love's Sleep", the latter replete with piano-styled bird song. Both are extracted from the epic Turangalila Symphony, whereas the intense cello and piano duet "In Praise of the Eternity of Jesus" forms the fifth movement of the Quartet for the End of Time.

The highest flights again span a wide period of creative activity, Ascension (1932, played here complete) offering the widest orchestral palette, and "Abide in Love" (from the 1987-1991 masterpiece Illuminations of the Beyond ...) a weightless sequence of sighing phrases and meaningful silences. Performance- wise, everything is top-notch and DG's sound is truthfully dynamic.