GHCD 2362 – Schumann Symphonies – Toscanini, Walter – 1940 & 1946
NBC Symphony Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini (conductor)
Classical Recordings Quarterly Winter 2010
Neither of these performances is new to CD: the Second Symphony was issued in 1990 by dellArte and the Fourth as part of a two-CD set released in 1989 by Music & Arts.
Sonically, the Manfred overture is the prize here, hardly different from Toscanini’s studio account recorded the next day in Carnegie Hall save for lacking the air around that performance. Toscanini’s two live accounts of the symphony from 1941 and 1946 are remarkably similar – the 1941 version is on Testament SBT1377. The major blemish on both accounts encompasses revisions Toscanini made in the codas of the outer movements, where he added trumpets proclaiming the interval of the ascending fifth that serves as a kind of leitmotif throughout the work. But there are many splendid moments in the performance, most notably, perhaps, the beautifully sustained two concluding movements, each having a welcome breadth that proves the lie to the specious notion that Toscanini always played things “too fast”. The sound on this Guild transfer seems to have come from the same source used by dellArte, but it features less shrillness and has greater weight and presence. Purely in terms of sound, the Testament transfer of the 1941 performance is somewhat better still. Since Toscanini did not record the work in the studio, both releases are especially valuable.
The Fourth Symphony in this live Bruno Walter performance is very similar to the one he recorded two years earlier for HMV with the London Symphony Orchestra. Owing perhaps to the dry acoustic of NBC’s studio 8H, however, this broadcast performance seems ever so slightly more matter of fact. Most interesting though is that it reveals (like the studio effort) that the Walter of 1940 was a more vital conductor than he often seemed in his later studio recordings with the New York Philharmonic and Columbia Symphony. And if one can get past the close, dry ambiance of this NBC performance, the timbral accuracy that the network’s engineers achieved here should prove quire surprising.
Mortimer H. Frank
Music Web International January 2011
The rubric under which this disc flies is the 200th anniversary of Schumann’s birth, but that’s a rather tenuous celebratory tag. The real fulcrum is the NBC Symphony and three impressive performances from the 1940s. Obviously one should expect Toscanini to preside, and he does, over the Manfred overture and the Second Symphony. But we also hear Bruno Walter’s 1940 broadcast of the Fourth Symphony.
Manfred was recorded live in October 1946 and is subject to Toscanini’s purposeful, characterful and Egmont-evoking splendour. Lines are clear and dynamic, and the music-making is serious, directional and intensely driven. The Second Symphony was performed earlier in the year and shares the qualities that make Manfred so impressive a document, though some may perhaps feel the rather unrelieved symphonic argument too thrusting and intense. In this respect, then, many will prefer the surviving 1941 performance. The 1946 is brisk but has a relatively relaxed finale, though it’s not as metrically flexible as the earlier account. Nevertheless though there is some brusque phrasing in the slow movement – taken characteristically unsentimentally and quickly – there is still much to admire in the leanly phrased string playing and rhythmically charged strength. I happen to feel there are insufficient contrasts between movements and that Toscanini is too inflexible. He also amends the score, which is not a matter dealt with in the notes. There are some amendments in the first movement coda and in the finale, where trumpet parts are re-jigged, though this was by no means, as we know, an unusual practice then – or indeed, sometimes, now.
Bruno Walter didn’t record the Second Symphony and Toscanini didn’t record the Fourth, so there is symmetry at work in this compilation. Walter’s Fourth (March 1940) has a vibrant, no-nonsense directness not entirely unrelated to Toscanini’s own sense of motoric cohesion. Walter conducts the 1851 edition of the score, and does so with a vigorous and purposeful sense of line. He retains his youthful thrust and dynamism in this performance, one that abjures the more adamantine and etiolated approaches of such as Furtwängler – an approach deeply impressive on its own terms.
The transfers have been well effected, but whether symphonic performances from two such disparate conductors appeals as a compilation is a matter only you can decide.
Walter didn’t record the Second and Toscanini didn’t record the Fourth, so there is symmetry at work here.
Audiophile Audition October 2010
Guild openly dedicates three of Robert Schumann’s orchestral works conducted by Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) and Bruno Walter (1876-1962) as a commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Schumann’s birth in 1810. The Toscanini C Major Symphony fills a gap left in Walter legacy of Schumann inscriptions, since Walter never committed this work in the recording studio.The Manfred Overture (10 October 1946) receives a particularly driven account by Toscanini, the syncopations and tricky trumpet work not the least of the bravura elements in this hothouse performance. The Byronic mood having been established, Toscanini envisions the drama as seething bed of inner turmoil, the taut reins on the ensemble not belying the work’s kinship with Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture and Wagner’s Eine Faust-Overture. The C Major Symphony of the “old school” has had champions in Toscanini, Enescu, Mitropoulos, Szell, and Bernstein. Toscanini (17 March 1946) plays the first movement for its rounded periods in the Bach-like chorale, followed by an aggressive Allegro in double-dotted rhythms whose accents Toscanini virtually pummels into our hearts.
A wicked tempo marks the C Major Scherzo under Toscanini, wherein the cadences literally explode. The two trios alternately scamper about and reminisce on themes that have already passed by and will yet reappear in the finale. The C Minor Adagio well presages exquisite moments in Mahler, and we might wish Toscanini allowed more relaxation in the tempo, but he urges a moderate andante on the tempo, which certainly reduces anything like sentiment and imposes a more martial atmosphere on what Mitropoulos finds bucolically mystical. The last movement maintains the innate ferocity of the vision, the tympani active along with the spirited NBC woodwinds and brass. The moments of repose do not seem entirely natural, since Toscanini insists on those metric undercurrents that keep us on fiery edge. The coda, however, asserts a triumph of the spirit, and the NBC audience quite grants its power.
Bruno Walter leads an 1851 version of the D Minor Symphony (2 March 1940), a darkly-hued incredibly economical score that recycles virtually every component of its melodic contour. Walter, too, rather savors the music’s hectic power, not dawdling–or lingering romantically–over its plastic figures in the way Furwaengler would evoke the mystery from what could be a cosmic drama or merely a visceral expression from Schumann akin to Beethoven C Minor Symphony. The singular verve of Walter’s reading does grant an immense logic and inevitability to the progression as cut from a single cloth in many colors. The A Minor Romanze, appropriately, comes hard on the heels of the last chord in the Allegro di molto, the oboe and solo violin making their appropriate concertante contribution. Strong thrusts mark the D Minor Scherzo, its bass-heavy echo effects in fine fettle. As with Cantelli and Furtwaengler, the transition to the last movement rises luxuriantly to the occasion, rife with portent and majestic calls to arms. Lithe and contrapuntal, the last movement proves transparent and eminently dramatic in turn, the NBC trumpets once again a force to behold.