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James Miller
Fanfare, February 2008

…truly beautiful performance that, as far as I know, is now only available from the orchestra itself as part of a larger set in honor of its centennial…Stokowski performance wise and is blessed with superior sound. Serebrier’s is relaxed and sensuou If you should come upon this CD, do not judge it by its…cover art—if this sort of thing is your dish, it’s quite delicious.

Marie Frances Hopkins
MUSO, February 2008

Hailed as one of the 20th century’s greatest conductors, Stokowski’s 70-year career included Wagner in programmes from his first performance in 1907 to his late appearances at the age of 95. In particular, he admired Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde for it’s ‘supreme expression’.

Stokowski was famed for his remarkable orchestral sound, so it seems fitting that José Serebrier—hailed by Stokowski as a ‘great master of orchestral balance’ at the age of only 21—should conduct Stokowski’s work.

Stokowski’s ‘symphonic syntheses’—described as ‘extended symphonic poems’—brought works by composers such as Wagner to the concert repertoire without detracting from the wealth of imagery and emotion present in Wagnerian compositions. This particular recording contains a mixture of Wagner’s own concert versions of works like the Prelude and Leibestod from Tristan and Isolde seamlessly incorporating Stokowski’s synthesis of Liebesnacht.

The atmospheric opening from Das Rheingold—the entrance of the Gods into Valhalla—sets the tone beautifully with glorious brass lines and an ever-present sense of balance and subtlety, for which both Wagner and Serebrier are famous. Throughout the recording the sense of emotion and, more importantly, the story are not lost for the lack of words, with each scene performed fantastically by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. Of particular merit is act III from Parsifal, in which the story is conveyed particularly well. The journey is rounded off with the ever-popular Die Walküre: Ride of the Valkyries, glorious as ever and a perfect ending to a fantastic CD.

A definite must for all fans of both Wagner and orchestral performance at its best.

Lawrence A. Johnson
Miami Herald, January 2008

The Magic Fire Music is delightful and Ride of the Valkyries aptly rousing.

Finest of all is the Parsifal synthesis. Surprisingly Stokowski’s retooling excludes the Good Friday Music , instead taking the transformation section and final passage of Act 3. José Serebrier elicits a luminous, weighty and passionate reading, with atmospheric chimes and the Dresden Amen having great spiritual ardor.

Recording is excellent and this CD is worth investigating for some extremely enjoyable music…A must have recording!

Richard Freed, December 2007

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Naxos has a good thing going in José Serebrier’s traversal of the arrangements and “symphonic syntheses” of Bach, Mussorgsky, and now Wagner, by his mentor Leopold Stokowski. Like Stokowski himself, Serebrier has been able to put his own imprint on the orchestra (in this series, the Bournemouth SO), and he continues to show his respect by not trying to duplicate Stokowski’s own famous recordings. Instead, he approaches the scores afresh, with the insights he has gained in his own long career—as well as his meaningful association with the Great Man Himself.

The two “symphonic syntheses” here (the term was coined by Charles O’Connell, himself a legendary figure in the recording industry, who produced Stokowski’s Philadelphia recordings for Victor) are those of Tristan und Isolde and Act III of Parsifal. These are framed by the “Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla,” from Das Rheingold and the two orchestral numbers from Act III of Die Walküre. The “Magic Fire Music” is in Stokowski’s own arrangement, while the Rheingold excerpt and the “Ride of the Valkyries” are his editions of the old Hermann Zumpe arrangements.

The spacious sound (Naxos has come a long way in this respect) conveys the full splendor of these performances, and Serebrier’s annotation is, as always in this series, valuable in its own right. Here he specifies exactly which portions of the respective operas went into the “syntheses,” where Stokowski assigned a vocal line to an instrument and where he simply left it out, and various other details on how Stokowski achieved his remarkable sound—summing up, “Some of it can be explained, but much of it can only be called magic.” That about covers what happens here, too.

Edward Greenfield
Gramophone, November 2007

Opulent Wagner arrangements provide a stunner José Serebrier conducts the BSO in thrilling performances

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.

Ian Lace
MusicWeb International, October 2007

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.

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 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, James and Becky Daley, and Françoise and Ned Marcus”. 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 our list of outstanding releases for 2007. Don’t miss this one.

Colin Anderson, September 2007

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 “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.

David Hurwitz, September 2007

If this is Wagner at one remove, which Leopold Stokowski himself recorded, followed by Matthias Bamert for Chandos, there’s no doubting the sonorous sound or the narrative power that is created.

From the thunder and glowing arrival of the “Das Rheingold” opener to the athletic vitality of “Ride of the Valkyries” (which closes the disc), there is a very particular sonority to the music-making here—faithful to both Wagner and Stokowski—and which is captured in demonstration-worthy sound by the Bournemouth Symphony, Naxos’s recording team and conjured by José Serebrier, a one-time assistant to and colleague of Stokowski (a couple of letters from Stokowski to Serebrier are reproduced in the booklet). The ‘humanity’ of ‘Wotan’s Farewell’ (not listed but a moving entrée to the ‘Magic Fire Music’) is also well attended to.

The most substantial selection (36 minutes) is from “Tristan und Isolde”, the ‘Prelude’ (given with molten flow) and ‘Liebestod’ as we know them in concert performances separated if co-joined by the 20-minute ‘Love Music’ (darkly illicit) from Act Two as the centrepiece; voice-less, of course, but full of suspense and fluctuation and with a ‘join’ to the ‘Liebestod very well effected. Serebrier conducts with theatrical impulse, the BSO responding with ardour and conviction. Something more spiritual informs the sequence from Act Three of “Parsifal”, the music’s hefty recesses and magical happenings sonorously portrayed and never static.

With sumptuous recording, even if some of the treble is just slightly too ambient and ‘remote’, this is an impressive ‘take’ on Wagner’s creativity by a conductor (Stokowski) who was a lifelong devotee of Wagner’s music, the baton passed with certainty to Serebrier who has a similar and ‘living’ conviction to the cause.

by Paul Driver
, September 2007

This Wagner disc is “bleeding chunks” with a difference. Not content with the composer’s own orchestral excerpts from his operas, the conductor Leopold Stokowski made elaborate “syntheses”, turning, in this case, Parsifal Act III and three stretches of Tristan und Isolde into respective tone poems. He would also soup up the orchestration, using a variety of tricks to produce the dynamic “Stokowski sound”. This selection, splendidly conducted by his former assistant (who writes interestingly on those tricks), also includes the Entry of the Gods into Valhalla, from Das Rheingold, and the Magic Fire Music and Ride of the Valkyries, from Die Walküre.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2007

When Leopold Stokowski became conductor of the Cincinnati Orchestra in 1909, the opportunity to hear a complete Wagner opera was afforded only to those who lived near to one of the world’s great opera houses. Many would have to settle for ‘bleeding chunks’ performed in symphony concerts, sometimes with singers, but more frequently in orchestral arrangements. It was Stokowski who went one stage further in his ‘Symphonic Synthesis’, substantial passages linked together to form a richly conceived tone poem. In the case of Tristan and Isolde his idea stretched to three linked movements that open with the slow prelude to the first act, through the impassioned love music in the second act, and finally to Isolde’s Liebestod. It is strange that having done so much to popularise Wagner, Stokowski only conducted one opera in its entirety with three concert performances of Parsifal, an experience prompting him to write a fifteen minute synthesis taken from the third act. In all of this the conductor never strayed from Wagner’s orchestration, at times simply changing the vocal line to an instrument, but more often just omitting the singer’s part altogether, as we hear in Tristan and Isolde. We do, of course, read much about the ‘Stokowski Sound’, though today we associate that with his recordings, and they can be deceptive, the conductor’s knowledge of what was technically possible, creating a sound that even his advocates agree was different to that heard ‘live’. Jose Serebrier worked closely with the great man as his Associate Conductor, giving him unique access to his rehearsal and performance technique. He brings that knowledge to create a sumptuous sound from the Bournemouth orchestra, encouraging weight in the lower string instruments. The orchestra are in good shape, the brass enjoying Serebrier’s encouragement to add their important tingle factor. The engineers have played their part in the high impact sound, and it’s sure going to have some speakers jumping around!

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