Recording of October 1965: Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade

Rimsky-Korsakov: Scheherazade
London Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski, cond., Erich Gruenberg , solo violin.
London Phase 4 SPC-21005 (LP). Recorded September 22, 1964. Kingsway Hall, London. Marty Wargo, prod., Tony D'Amato, recording dir., Arthur Lilley, eng.

This is infuriating. Along comes the performance of Scheherazade that we've been waiting for, and the powers that be at London Records decide, God knows why, to bestow upon it the dubious blessing of Phase 4 recording. The sound is positively vast and cavernous, the bass booms, the highs scream, the harp sounds like it's 10' tall, and instruments wander back and forth across the stereo stage as if nobody had thought to tell the musicians where to sit. The sound is very clean, as though anyone cared at this point.—J. Gordon Holt

Editor's Note: Despite J. Gordon Holt's dismissal of its sound quality, I chose this album to be the October 1965 "Recording of the Month" because it was one of the first classical LPs I bought and I fell in love with the performance.—John Atkinson

johnnythunder's picture

I can speak as a bit of a Stokowski authority here as I own 98% of his recordings on vinyl and CD (for better of worse.) This recording as an interpretation is electrifying esp. the end of the 2nd movement that builds to an astonishing climax that overloads the consoles! It's beautifully played if a bit overdone but very expressive. Is this a piece for subtlety though? Probably not. So judged as an audiophile recording - its a curio of a flawed process. As a Stokowski specialty, it's friggin' awesome.

Ortofan's picture

... better pressing of a better performance available:

For more info on the Reiner/Chicago recording, also see this review from 1983:

johnnythunder's picture

and overall less over the top. I still think Stokowski beats Reiner in the peroration of the 2nd movement. One thing that always bothered me in the Reiner though - I always felt that the entry of the clarinet in the 2nd movement sounds a little flat (as in out of tune.) Just me ?

Ortofan's picture

... "a little flat" if you listen to this version?

Presumably you've verified that your turntable's rotational speed is accurate?

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Since you mentioned you also listen to CDs, the Fritz Reiner recording is available on CD at Amazon for $9.98 ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Stokowski recording is also available on CD at Amazon ......... The Amazon CD has different cover art ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Another recording ........ Sir Charles Mackerras and LSO on Telarc CD is also available at Amazon ..........

Anton's picture

I'd love to see Mike Fremer get a copy of this and play it on his reference system and compare impressions!

Robin Landseadel's picture

This great performance has a truly awful recording. Don't know how anyone can sit through this on high-rez gear. It's the classical music equivalent of mid-1960's Garage Rock.

mrounds's picture

I have a (well-used but not demolished) Phase 4 of the organ at Kingsway, and when transferring to digital I not only had to do the usual de-clicking and cleaning, but also a bit of EQ to reduce the boom (and a bit of blend to reduce the super-separation). The separation issue (no center at all - just left and right) was, well, Phase 4 standard. As for the boominess - I have other Phase 4 (recorded in other venues) that doesn't do it. If JGH & JA heard it in this record too, that's another point in favor of it being the hall.

hollowman's picture

Hasn't Stereophile blogged on the Phase 4 (remaster) set, before?

dalethorn's picture

I got the 1957/58 Beecham (1999 remastered), incl. Borodin's Prince Igor from Presto Classical. Sounds very good. I'm a fan of many late-50's remastered stereo recordings.

PeterMrozik's picture

Thank you for the recommendation(the Beecham recoding, that is). This piece is one of my most favored compositions and am always looking for another interpretation. I will give this one a try this evening.

While I agree with Mr. Holt's observations about the Phase4 treatment, I nonetheless still enjoy the Stokowski recording very much. It's quite entertaining and quite "different" than most of the others, which in my view is a virtue.