Music & Arts' Stokowski Conducts Tchaikovsky and Avshalomov experimental stereo recordings from 1952 is precisely the sort of thing historical recording buffs don't ever expect to see. Historically, stereo sound doesn't officially appear as a public medium until 1958, but as early as 1930 inventors at EMI in Germany and at Bell Labs were trying to find a way to get more of a three-dimensional sound out of recordings. Leopold Stokowski was a frequent flyer at Bell Labs during this time, utilizing his expert ears and world-class Philadelphia Orchestra as guinea pigs for Bell's experiments, and as more is known about the early technology of multi-channel recording, the clearer it becomes that Stokowski, more so than any non-technician in the business, was the spiritual father of high fidelity. Apart from EMI's Alan Blumlein, whom Stokowski likely never met, he was willing to work with everyone and anyone active in the field of multi-channel recording before it's time finally came in 1958. One such pioneer was Bert Whyte, who developed one of the first stereophonic systems to utilize magnetic tape, a big improvement over the discs used by Bell and Blumlein and far more practical than the nine film tracks that made up Walt Disney's "Fantasound" in 1940. Stokowski invited Whyte to record his concert with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on November 20, 1952, Stokowski's first with that orchestral body. The program consisted of Stokowski's arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor of Bach, excerpts from Schubert's Rosamunde, bleeding chunks from Wagner, Jacob Avshalomov's tone poem the Taking of T'ung Kuan and the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5 in E minor. Only the Avshalomov and Tchaikovsky works have survived thanks to a tape given by Whyte to his assistant; ultimately it ended up with the Leopold Stokowski Society, who cooperated with Music & Arts in making this release available. The transfers are by Mark Obert-Thorn, which automatically means that these recordings are probably sounding as good here as they are ever going to get. Whyte's system utilized two microphones and a staggered pair of recording heads out of phase when played back on newer tape machines; Obert-Thorn has corrected for this problem, but in a few minor spots it's still a little out of phase. There are numerous dropouts in the recording, particularly in the right channel, though these become less frequent as the Tchaikovsky moves along. While Stokowski's interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Fifth is palpably romantic, there is nothing precious or sweet about it; compare the superb mono recording he made of this work with "his" symphony orchestra the following year and you can hear the common elements with this live one - slow sections are deep, moving, and serious; fast ones are on fire. Audience members in Detroit are so enthralled they applaud after the first movement. The Taking of T'ung Kuan is similarly volcanic and limber; Stokowski was praised in the local press of the time for including this then-"modern" work and "inject[ing some] sorely needed spice" - times were certainly different then! Included as an extra, there is a startlingly clear and fresh perspective on what will be a well-known recording to many, T bor from the sessions that produced Rafael Kubelik's classic 1952 Mercury recording of Smetana's M Vlast. Whyte was invited by Mercury producer C. Robert Fine to set up his stereo gear right alongside Mercury's for the 1952 session, capturing Kubelik's famously fiery rendering of T bor and perhaps other performances. Although the Mercury recording was a milestone in mono high fidelity sound, this one has a little less distortion and naturally more of a sense of spread. Does Whyte's "binaural" system make a difference? Sure, it does, compared to the dimly separated stereo recordings made during the Second World War by the Germans who inherited the Blumlein system;.