THE GRAMOPHONE London Office: 58, Frith Street, London, W. 1.
Edited ·by COMPTON MA'CKENZIE
TELEPHONE: R egent 1383,
TELEGRAMS : Parmaxto, 'rVestcent, London,
WHEN the Russian ballet first came to London, in 1911, i t was a much more wonderful affair than Monsieur Diagbileff 's somewhat faux bon ballet of to-day. In those days, although Nijinsky, probably the greatest male dancer that the world has ever seen, was in his prime, there was more inclination among the audience to take an old-fashioned interest in the women. Perhaps in those days we looked at the world through rosecoloured spectacles, but I believe we had a better view of i t than that obtained through the hornrimmed spectacles of the moment. Among the many ballets which delighted us .a t Covent Garden was Schehemzade, to which the music of RimskyKorsakov's Suite was adapted . I f one has seen the ballet i t is impossible ever again to visualize the programme that Rimsky-Korsakov intended to illustrate, and I know no better example of the futility of any attempt to make music representational. As I listen to the superh records which have been made by the Philadelphia Symphony · Orchestra under Stokowski and published by His Master's Voice on five discs, I cannot pretend to see the vessel of Sinbad or recognize Prince Kalender; but I do see again the Sultan setting out from the Palace for war or hunting, I forget which; I see again Nijinsky springing round the stage like a magnificent black panther before he takes the faithless Sultana in his arms ; .when those ominous drum - taps · are heard I see again the Sultana and her women in the embraces of the slaves, unconscious of the Sultan's . return; and instead of the shipwreck at the end 1 see' again that great bearded Sultan and his officers coming in with drawn scimitars and the massacre that succeeds. And as I cannot imagine music more perfectly' i l lustrating . what I saw on the stage of Covent Garden, and as
I now discover that not all of the incidents I saw i l lustrated were intended to be i l lustrated, I feel that the best thing for most readers to do, who have not seen the ballet and who have not listened to this suite with the programme in their hands, is ·to Esten to i t without bothering about the Arabian · Nights and sin lPly enjoy the great barbaric drama which the music will · provide without any pictures or printed commentary.. As a piece of recordin~or as an orchestral performance -these -records ol S cheherazade will be considered by many people -to be the most satisfying ensemble yet heard in this country.
A month or two ago I expressed my doubt about Stokowski's version of the Franck Symphony and said that I would rather wait until I got back to J ethou befure giving my final opinion. I now give my final opinion. I t is bad. I am inclined to doubt whether any conductor after even a year's experience of American prosperity would be capable of conducting a Franck Symphony. Stokowski has enjoyed i t far too long. Dame Ethel Smyth's story of meeting Brahms at lunch and of being rather shocked to see him pick up the t in of sardines to which he had been helping himself, and with great gusto pour the remaining oil down his throat, gives me the clue to something in Brahms that is proof against the effect of riches on his interpreters. But the music of Cesar Franck eludes these millionaire interpreters. I t may be that this inability to stand the strain of modern American life reveals a fundamental weakness in the music of Cesar Franck. I have not yet heard any of Stokowski's interpretations of Beethoven, but I have an idea that his Beethoven would be good, and that marvellous record of the Bach Toccata and Fugue proves that Bach is rich and robust in himself to stand any amount of modern cleverness. I hope that when the Columbia people record the Franck Symphony they wiTI not entrust i t to .Sir Henry Wood, who will not be any improvement on Stokowski, though for very different reasons. Stokowski in Scheherazade is another matter; here he has an ideal medium to display his genius as a conductor. I should add that on the eighth side, about three-quarters of the way through, in some t impani recording the 'Balmain was defeated and the soundbox .and needle stuck. I could not detect any flaw in the disc and conclude this is a quite unusually heavy piece of recording. Readers with tone-arms that have shied at one or two big jumps will want to stand by when this side is being ~~~. ' .
The policy of the Columbia Company in bringing out albums of major works 'a t a popular price is welcome. The effect of coarseness, even 'of 'violence, in the performance of the Grieg Piano Concerto in A minor, by Ignaz Friedman with an ' un-named orchestra -under the hatonof Philippe Gaubert, is due to a natural anxiety to demonstrate how" the public is getting twenty-six bobs' worth of music, for eighteen bob. I confess I didn't enormously enjoy