Reviews

GHCD 2202 – TOSCANINI – Schubert, Strauss, Haydn, Bach – 1939

The NBC Symphony Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini – Conductor

To the CD in our Shop


Audiophile February 04

Sift through this radio ragbag of Barbirolli performances to uncover a few gems

Confusingly, there are here two separate programmes packaged as one. The first disc offers a live performance of Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle which Barbirolli conducted in New York in April 1939. This is the headline item (misspelt ‘solenelle’ on the cover and throughout the booklet). The second disc, variously called ‘Barbirolli Conducts’ and ‘Barbirolli Rarities’, is given over to operatic extracts taken from radio transcripts of live concert performances in New York and Detroit in 1938-40.

Of the 70 minutes of music on the latter disc, only the mesmerising 15-minute account of the finale scene of Salome with Rose Pauly in the title role could be said to be of any real value. Pauly, a great singer the record companies forgot to record, delivers the text with a mastery of pacing and verbal colour a stage actor might wonder at and there is a superb hand-in-glove accompaniment from Barbirolli. The exemplary balance of voice and orchestra makes plausible a recording that, by any standards, is dim and restricted. Technically, all these recordings are lumber- room stuff: radio station acetates in various states of disintegration. To judge by earlier incarnations on LP and CD, the sound was well-nigh un-reproducable. It remains pretty awful (the Rossini especially so) though it is to Guild’s credit that the Messe now appears at the correct the pitch and the Salome scene is not faded out before the end.

The recordings would be fit for the skip were it not for the fact that there are bits of musical gold embedded in the wreckage. To judge by this tattered remnant, Barbirolli’s reading of Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle was on a par with his Gerontius: deeply felt and beautifully paced. I would mourn the state of the acetates less if a performance of this quality was possible today. Sadly, conductors of Barbirolli’s stature, who also believe in God and legato, are hard to come by nowadays. This is a performance whose spirit I shall treasure even though I have no intention of playing the disc again.

Among the soloists, Ria Ginster and Bruna Castagna are especially fine, though, sadly, the ‘Crucifixus’ and ‘O salutaris’ are among the movements worst affected by the grinding, Gale Force Nine surfaces. Charles Kullman and the young Leonard Warren sound well, though Warren doesn’t always sing what Rossini wrote. The performance, which uses Rossini’s own 1867 orchestration, has a number of internal cuts, added to which some choral and orchestral sections are missing from the acetates. The sadly truncated ‘Cum sancto spiritu’ seems to have been both cut and damaged. Another recording (suitably ‘distressed’, presumably) was used to patch some of the gaps but the restorer says it’s so long since he did the work, he can’t remember which he used!

For the rest, Met comprimario Katheryn Meisle sings Dalila’s famous aria with assurance and charm and Lawrence Tibbett is in better voice in ‘Eri tu’ than reports at the time might lead us to expect. The Parsifal extracts, by contrast, are of little interest. Fragments from an Eastertide concert performance of Act 1, they are notable only for Barbirolli’s skill in making an undistinguished Amfortas raise his game during the torment monologue near the end of the act.
Richard Osborne


Classical Music on the Net Friday January 11 2002

This was Toscanini’s third season as Music Director of the NBC Orchestra and this CD is the opening concert recorded in the autumn of 1939 before a select audience in Symphony Hall at Radio City. The recording derives from a collection owned by Richard Blaine Gardner, a recording engineer and editor with whom Toscanini worked at RCA Victor. Copies of these tapes and discs were in turn passed down to Richard Caniell between 1949 and 1983, who subjected them to restorative processes, though retaining both the unfiltered sound and the original acoustics. One can only commend him and his team at Guild for their exemplary and painstaking work, for the result is very fine, and elsewhere in their catalogue music-lovers of an operatic disposition should explore their recent issues of Wagner, Mozart and Mussorgsky also reviewed on this website.

When radio and recordings got into their stride in the 1930s all sorts of prophets of doom began to be heard eliciting hostile cries from musicians afraid of being put out of work. The American Federation of Musicians, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers fretted and warned their members of the threat to careers and demise of the concert. In fact the opposite occurred, for as more homes were equipped with radios, more people listened to symphonic broadcasts, more orchestras then took to the air, and attendance at concerts leaped to an all-time high, especially during the war when entertainment was more vital than ever.

The programme of this concert in many ways typifies the Maestro’s music-making, beginning with the more predictable Schubert and Strauss but followed by a surprising choice of a work by Haydn (though this composer’s symphonies were often found in Toscanini’s programmes) and concluding with Respighi’s tamperings, Stokowski-style, with Bach. Toscanini lingers over his Schubert in a brooding interpretation, whilst sunlight pours into his Haydn. The Sinfonia Concertante may be a comparative rarity but it is always a good work for an orchestra to put four of its principal players under the spotlight. Though unnamed in the booklet they are in fact Robert Bloom (oboe), William Polesi (bassoon), Mischa Mischakoff (violin), and Frank Miller (cello), who did indeed hold their respective chairs as principal players in the NBC Orchestra at the time. Toscanini’s Strauss has clarity in the orchestral playing, rhythmic tension, concentrated sweep of phrasing, burning passion, beauty and tenderness in the love music and power at the climaxes, in short the finest playing that day. Respighi’s somewhat distortedly pompous and over-pretentious, cloying view of the wonderful Passacaglia by Bach is a curiosity, but nothing more.

Whatever one’s view of Toscanini, his podium manner or his music-making, whether his phrasing is at times too breathless or over-expansive, he was a supreme conductor whose concerts preserved as this one has been (and with hopefully more to come) make essential listening.
Christopher Fifield


Broadcast Argyll FM Sunday January 05 2002

Good evening. You are tuned to Argyll FM and this is David Heft welcoming listeners to the Sunday evening concert of recorded music and I take this opportunity to wish all our listeners a very happy and prosperous New Year.

To begin this first concert of the New Year, Argyll FM is very proud to be among the first radio stations in the country to present one of Guild Music’s newest releases in their new and prestigious Historic Series of exclusive recordings from Immortal Performances Recorded Music Society. We hear tonight the complete concert which was recorded live on the 14th October 1939 by the National Broadcasting Company Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the great Arturo Toscanini and which has been superbly re-mastered by the Series Producer Jonathan Wearn.

The source of the original recording is derived from the collection of the late Richard Blaine Gardner, Toscanini’s favorite engineer and editor at RCA Victor. Gardner passed on copies and test pressings to Richard Caniell between the years 1949 and 1983 and Caniell subsequently founded the Imortal Performances Recorded Music Society in 1980.

The performances we hear tonight are true to the original and grit or ticks have not been filtered out nor has the re-mastering been subjected to any electronic reverberation. Consequently, the recording does not provide listeners with the kind of silence one has come to expect from present day CD’s. This is an extremely important recording and which Guild Music can justifiably claim as being among the finest in broadcast recordings.

The four works which we are about to hear are; the Symphony No.8 in B minor, the ‘Unfinished’, D.759 by Schubert. The Tone Poem Don Juan, Opus 20, by Richard Strauss. The Symphony Concertante in B flat major, Opus 84, by Haydn and finally Respighi’s rarely heard orchestration of the Passacaglia and Fugue in C minor by Johann Sebastian Bach. The concert is preceded by a brief commentary and further short commentaries between each of the works. Here then is the complete concert given on the 14th October 1939 by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

You have just been listening to a complete concert which was first broadcast on the 14th October 1939 by the National Broadcasting Company Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Arturo Toscanini. If any listeners would like details of that recording or indeed any recording played during these Sunday evening concerts, please contact me at the Argyll FM studios here in Campbeltown.

That brings us to the end of tonight’s program and I hope you enjoyed that very recent release from Guild Music’s new Historic Series. In a few moments, Stuart and Kim will be here with Sunday late so please stay tuned. I shall be back with you next Sunday at the same time of 8.00 o’clock and I hope you will join with me then. This is David Heft thanking you for listening and if you have just tuned in, may I extend to you my very best wishes for the New Year. Good night everyone.
David Heft