GHCD 2232/33 – TOSCANINI – Mozart Concert & Rehearsal – 1946

NBC Symphony Orchestra, Toscanini – Conductor

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Arturo Toscanini was a legendary conductor, but not for his Mozart, which was often too fast, intense and muscular. Thus a new Guild Historical series release of an outstanding all-Mozart concert is something of a revelation. The fast tempi are still bracing, but transitions and lyrical passages are uncommonly convincing.

The singing style of the slow movement in the Divertimento in B flat, K. 287, for example, is both poised and operatic in the scope of its very beautifully defined moments.

In rehearsal, Toscanini is often patient but sometimes a stormy personality. He was strong-willed in shaping the music, but also fundamentally humble. In searching for the right shape and emphasis in a lyrical phrase, he says to the orchestra: “In Mozart we have always to learn something, and next month it will be better.” He was 79 years old at the time.

Actually, it wasn’t always better the next time — and as with all musicians, sometimes the best performance occurred in rehearsal. Other times it is just the way a particular phrase is shaped to perfection that sticks in the mind. All of this makes the Guild Historical Toscanini recordings exceptionally valuable. But the sound of the transfer from the 78 rpm source material requires some treble reduction and steeply boosted low bass.
Mark Kanny

By Collin Clarke

A useful document here, with excellent annotations by William H. Youngren. As is now to be expected with this series, broadcast commentaries add to a sense of occasion. Zauberflöte Overture is given a most invigorating reading. The repeated chords are grandly stated, their Masonic status clear (the rest of the introduction is most lovingly sculpted); the allegro positively scampers along. It is the space between the two tempi that makes the return of the chords all the more arresting.

The performance of the K287 Divertimento is a real sign of the times. The solo violin part is played in unison by a reduced first violin section, which must surely have caused great alarm at the time amongst the orchestra members. This performance as a whole is a strange mix. There are some miracles of ensemble in the Adagio, but much else detracts. The opening two chords may be attention grabbing, but for the wrong reason: they are harsh and abrasive here. Toscanini drives the Allegro hard. More elegance, even a touch of the suave, would not have gone amiss.

The same problem attacks the Theme and Variations, which certainly need to relax. The first violins sound as if they are hanging on for dear life on occasion. Later, the Recitative that opens the finale is jumpy and undignified. This is for Toscanini die-hards only, I would suggest.

The Haffner’s first movement is remarkably robust. There is a distinct feeling that Toscanini and his orchestra are happier here, and certainly more confident. This is not to imply that this reading is problem-free, however. The Minuet’s Trio sounds like a second slow movement, with indulgent swells aping expression. Still, the finale is fresh and bubbles over with energy. The Maestro’s famous discipline is here, at last, put fully to the service of the music.

Rehearsal sequences give us a window into the machinations of the workings of this immortal relationship. They remain an important historical document, but of course the gestures, both of hand and eye, remain unseen so we are left with the famous attempts at articulating ideas in heavily Italian-accented English. It is hard going to work one’s way through 53 minutes of Haffner once the novelty of being part of the atmosphere has worn off. The vocal exchanges between Toscanini and his players can be very distanced and one has to strain to catch the Maestro’s drift.

BBC Music Magazine July 2003

Devoted adherents of Arturo Toscanini’s artistry continue to keep the legacy of this podium giant alive. Two Guild releases focus on complete broadcast concerts by the NBC symphony Orchestra: and all Mozart concert from 3 November 1946 ( plus extensive rehearsal excerpts) and an all-Beethoven Concert (26 November 1944 ) which includes soloist Rudolf Serkin Beethoven’s G major concerto; here the additional material is Serkin’s debut with Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic eight years earlier, in the same concerto and Mozart’s K595. Those earlier performances have occasional gaps in recording continuity but sound more humane than the often brittle and hard-driven Forties performances.

Gramophone July 2003

Replay – Rob Cowan on recent reissues and treasures from the archives

Spoilt for choice

When Arturo Toscanini heard Serge Koussevitzky conduct Mozart’s B flat Divertimento for horn and strings, K287 he was so appalled that he decided to programme the work himself – ‘for Koussevitzky’s benefit’, apparently. The idea might seem arrogant, but the evidence, both on commercial record (RCA) and on a Guild CD of a broadcast from the same period, is positively Beechamesque in its elegance and piquant phrasing. Toscanini’s broadcast and recording differ from each other in tiny detail, enough to warrant closer comparison, but the real find on this recent Guild ‘twofer’ – at least for those who missed various past incarnations – is a rehearsal and performance of the Haffner Symphony, Toscanini’s Mozart at its most persuasive. Both works, plus a Magic Flute Overture, were played early in November 1947.

Readers who, like me, harbour minor reservations concerning a 1944 collaboration between Toscanini and Rudolf Serkin in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto can now compare it with a performance that Serkin, Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic gave in 1936 as part of Serkin’s New York concert début. Greater subtlety and musicality are only occasionally clouded by inferior sound quality and the companion performance of Mozart’s K595 is equally arresting.

Toscanini’s rehearsals could on occasion be more riveting than his concert performances – Dvořák’s Scherzo capriccioso, for example (Naxos). Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette, too, burns brighter in rehearsal and is newly released (together with the full performance) by Guild with Scene 6 from The Damnation of Faust added. Even those who already own the slightly brighter RCA transfer of the full performance stand to learn from the extensive rehearsal…