June 2009  Guild Stokowski CD features
US premiere of Hovhaness Exile Symphony

Leopold Stokowski Live Recordings 1942-57
NBC Symphony Orchestra / Houston Symphony Orchestra
Guild Historical GHCD2347 | 72:51 | ADD

Hovhaness: Symphony No.1 'Exile' [18:16]
    US premiere, 6 December 1942
1. I: Lament [7:36]
2. II: Conflict [3:24]
3. III: Triumph [7:16]

4-7. Milhaud: Symphony No.1 [21:09]
    New York premiere, 21 March 1943

8-10. Copland: Symphony No.2 [15:07]
    US premiere, 9 January 1944

11. Jose Serebrier: Symphony No.1 [17:48]
    World premiere, 4 November 1957

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Guild have released an important historical CD comprising significant recordings from the voluminous Leopold Stokowski archive: four mid-20th century symphonies, all taken from live radio broadcasts and each of them a premiere of some kind. Both the Hovhaness Exile Symphony and Copland Short Symphony are US premieres, the Milhaud Symphony No.1 is a New York premiere, and the José Serebrier Symphony No.1, composed when Serebrier was just 17 years old, is a world premiere. The latter work went on to win the precocious Uruguayan a BMI award in 1957 (although Serebrier has since become more famous as a conductor).

The biggest eye-catcher here will likely be the US premiere of Copland’s 2nd Symphony (given on 23 March 1943), but perhaps the Hovhaness Exile Symphony is more of a unique historical document. The original designations for the three movements were Lament, Conflict and Triumph, reflecting the plight of exiled Armenians during the 1930s. In 1970 the composer replaced the central ‘Conflict’ with a new Grazioso movement, and re-titled the outer ones with non-programmtic tempo markings, somewhat watering down the symphony’s original political connotations. Thus, this is likely to be the only available testimony of the work’s original 1936 conception, and consequently an unexpected boon for Hovhanophiles.

As Robert Matthew-Walker’s well-researched booklet notes point out, Stokowski gave more than 2,000 premieres of one kind or another. His enthusiasm for young, up-and-coming composers seemed almost boundless. Many composers’ careers gained huge momentum from Stokowski’s support and they were generous in their gratitude to him. In a 90th birthday tribute, Hovhaness later wrote “Leopold Stokowski has been a miracle in my life … there are no words to express my thankfulness to this great man”. A much earlier Hovhaness tribute relating to the maestro can be read on our website here. Of course Hovhaness’ biggest early success was his 1955 Mysterious Mountain symphony, premiered by Stokowski when making his debut with the Houston Symphony, and also heard over the national radio. It was subsequently recorded by Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony.

This disc clocks in at a generous 72:51 and the standard of remastering is high. Although no amount of digital audio wizardry can purge all the limitations of 1940s recording technology, we are, in fact, hearing these live recordings with more clarity than the thousands across the USA who tuned into the radio broadcasts all those years ago. The unearthing of these forgotten performances after more than half a century represents an important addition not just to the Stokowski recorded legacy on CD but also that of American symphonic playing and broadcasting in the ’40s and ’50s. Audiophile completists of the four composers featured will be ordering this disc as a matter of course, but at just GBP 4.60 and USD 6.81, this CD is remarkable value for the curious too.

Click here to order from Guild Historical.

Stokowski conducts
Hovhaness Symphony No.3

Review of Hovhaness Symphony No.3
Guild Music Website

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