Reviews

GHCD 2211/12 – TOSCANINI – Vaughan Williams – Brahms – Haydn – 1938

NBC Symphony Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini – Conductor

To the CD in our Shop


BBC Music Magazine – January 2003

What a relief to turn instead to OTTO KLEMPERER’s 1951 Holland Festival broadcast performance of Mahler’s Resurrection with the Concertgebouw Orchestra and soloists Kathleen Ferrier and Jo Vincent on glorious form. Although, like Schuricht, Klemperer opts for fast tempi and eschews overstated rubato, there’s so much more subtlety and drive in his interpretation. While this outstandingly dynamic performance has already appeared on a mid-price Decca CD, the new transfer on Guild Historical has great immediacy, and the documentation, which extends to 26 pages and includes full texts and translations, is extraordinarily generous given the price of the disc.

Two more releases of broadcast material from concerts conducted by ARTU RO TOSCANINI, also an Guild, deserve the widest dissemination. The 1947 NBC Symphony Orchestra performance of Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet is riveting from start to finish, and a bonus CD, featuring extended excerpts from the maestro’s rehearsals for the concert, conveys an almost unparalleled degree of energy and involvement in the music. The other CD provides excerpts from a 1942 War Bond Concert and a full programme of the Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia,  Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture and Brahms’s Third from 1938. The Brahms is particularly strong – a far more expansive and fluid performance than the better- known RCA recording of 1952.


Classics Today Saturday July 20 02

Reference Recording – None for this coupling

This two-disc set derives from two concerts, one given on October 15, 1938, and the other, featuring the Bach and Haydn items, from a War Bond fund-raiser that took place on April 4, 1942. The Bach “Air on a G String” sounds, well, like the Air on a G String: that is, warmly Romantic and distractingly sensuous. Haydn’s “Clock” Symphony was of course a Toscanini specialty, and several recordings exist, all of them excellent–and this one is no exception. The conductor’s slashing attacks and take-no-prisoners excitement in the outer movements prefigures the period-instrument movement of today, and anyone who likes this music needs to hear Toscanini’s way with it.

However it’s the other items that offer the most interest. On the whole, this Brahms Third Symphony probably is Toscanini’s best. Tempos flow naturally and the finale lacks those hideous timpani additions at the outset of the recapitulation; but there’s no lack of excitement and the sound is surprisingly clear and full for its provenance. The Vaughan Williams Tallis Fantasia certainly is a Toscanini rarity, and he plays it with complete conviction: it’s a warm, broad reading that gets straight to the heart of the music and rises to an impressively sonorous climax.

The two Martucci items sound rather pale and uninteresting today despite all the conductor does to shape them lovingly, while Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet is typically exciting and passionate–but also typically precise. As noted above, the sound quality is perfectly acceptable for its era, and the remastering has been carried out with some care. All told, an excellent collection that Toscanini fans who don’t own it already will certainly enjoy.
David Hurwitz


International Record Review – July 02

Bach Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D, BVW 1068 – Air. Brahrns Symphony No. 3 in F, op. 90. Haydn Symphony No. 101 in D, ‘Clock’. Martucci Notturno. Novelletta. Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

This is the second in a new series of Toscanini-broadcast performances issued by Guild (the first was reviewed last month). Apparently it is a continuation of a sünilar project begun in 1999 by Naxos. As in that earlier endeavour, the insert notes here suggest that the sources for this material, having come from the collection of Toscanini’s ‘favourite engineer’, Richard Gardner, comprise prime NBC acetates. But this broadcast from October 15th, 1938, sounds as if it derives from a re-airing of that concert by WRVR, the radio station of the famous Riverside Church in New York City, which in 1963 (in co-operation with the maestro’s son, Walter) reproduced the first two years of Toscanini’s NBC concerts.

As was the ease with many of those re-broadcasts, the sound for this one is variable – compressed by monitored dynamics and the acoustic boxiness of Studio 8H, and further compromised by occasionally noisy surfaces. It is at its best in the Vaughan Williarns. This was the first of Toscanini’s two NBC presentations of the work. Stamped with admirably transparent textures, a lean sonority and a string tone never excessively sweetened with too much vibrato, it conveys the music’s eerie modal harmonies and pointed colorations with gorgeously sustained intensity. As this is a work Toscanini never recorded in the studio, the performance has prime documentary value, especially as the sound here is marginally superior to that in a Relief CD derived from the same source.

Equally valuable, if for different reasons, are the Brahms and Tchaikovsky works, both played in this concert with greater conviction and concentration than in Toscanini’s sole NBC studio accounts. The Brahms Third received more NBC performances from Toscanini than any other of the composer’s symphonies, doubtless because it was the one he was least sure about how to play. Among all of the conductor’s preserved performances, his 1952 studio account is one of the least convincing in its excessive breadth, flagging tension and peculiar acoustic that makes the NBC Symphony sound almost like a small toy orchestra. Conversely, this 1938 broadcast reading is one of his most commanding: taut yet expansively grand, it presses forward without being rushed, with all of the music’s rhythmic and harmonic ambiguities fully clarified. Along with Toscanini’s 1952 London performance with the Philharmonia Orchestra, it exemplifes his mastery of what is probably the most difficult Brahms symphony to perform convincingly. The Tchaikovsky, as in the 1946 NBC recording, is fierce and purged of even a hint of sentimentality. But it is executed with greater control. lf one can tolerate the cramped sound, which is a bit cleaner and less monitored than in the Brahms, the performance should prove compelling.

The two Martucci pieces are charming trifle and reflect Toscanini’s – often overlooked – capacity for projecting graceful lyric delicacy. Perhaps part of the success of this – the first concert of Toscanini’s second NBC season – was rooted in the orchestra’s delight in having their maestro return from Italy after narrowly escaping Mussolini’s withholding of his passport and the Fascist press having branded him ‘an honorary Jew who should be shot’. Clearly, on this late-evening Saturday concert in October, they were playing their guts out for him.

A little more than two years after that concert, Toscanini would resign from NBC. It was, however, a Resignation that left a door open for return. What prompted that return was the world mess. Asked by the Department of the Treasury to conduct the NBC Symphony in broadcasts designed to promote the sale of Defence (and later War) Bonds, Toscanini agreed. The items featured here come from the last of those five concerts (which concluded with the Prelude and ‘Good Friday Music’ from Parsifal). They are more attractive sonically than those from the October 1938 broadcast – still cramped, to be sure, occasionally a bit gritty, and not the equal of the best NBC acetates, but having fairly wide frequency and dynamic range and reasonable musicality. It is ironic that Haydn’s Clock Symphony, which had been at the core of Toscanini’s repertory and is the only Haydn symphony that he recorded twice, should have gained but a single NBC performance from him, the one featured here. It is a fine reading, mainly duplicating the many virtues of his late NBC studio effort, save for this broadcast account omitting a first-movement repeat. The brief Bach excerpt is remarkably stylish for its time – unsentimental, with its reiterated bass fully clarified yet never exaggerated. All in all, then, despite limitations, this is a historical release of major significance that all those interested in performance practice in general, or Toscanini in particular, should certainly hear.
Mortimer H. Frank