Stokowski's Fantastique: Sonorous or Slow?
When asked in 1964 why he had not conducted Berlioz’s “Symphony Fantastique” since 1914, Leopold Stokowski said, "I think it is a landmark of originality in the history of music, but I think that Monteux or Paray conduct it better than I do."
Sadly, when four years later he reversed himself, and performed and recorded it with the New Philharmonia Orchestra (London Phase 4 SPC 21031), I’m afraid he lived up to his original assessment - this from an unabashed Stoki fan and someone who hates going negative.
While the sound of the “focused mics” on this Phase4 recording (now reissued on BBC cd) is quite dynamic and not at all unpleasing, due in no small measure I suspect to Stokowski’s own involvement in microphone placements, the pace of this rendition is dreadfully slow – at “read through” speed. It takes Stokowski nearly 53 minutes to shoot down nearly every flight of fancy that Berlioz scored. The climactic string “frenzy” toward the end of the 1st movement has the life sapped out of it with what some of the more giving critics call Stokowski’s sonorous treatment.
Anyone have another take on this?