Reviews

GHCD 2362 – Schumann Symphonies – Toscanini, Walter – 1940 & 1946

NBC Symphony Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini (conductor)

To the CD in our Shop


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.
Jonathan Woolf
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.
Gary Lemco


New Classics.co October 2010

German composer, aesthete and influential music critic Robert Schumann was a virtuoso pianist but when a hand injury prevented his ambitions from being realised, he decided to focus on composition. Most of his works were written for solo piano or for piano and orchestra, though he also composed many lieder, an opera, orchestral, choral and chamber works, and four symphonies. He began his Second Symphony in 1845 and completed the orchestration the following year, when it was premiered in Leipzig with Felix Mendelssohn conducting the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. By this time he had a good deal of experience as an orchestral composer but he had begun to show signs of serious mental and physical illness. Clara Schumann wrote of her thirty-four-year-old husband: ‘Robert could not sleep a single night. His imagination painted him the most fearful pictures. Early in the morning I usually found him bathed in tears. He quite gave himself up.’ It’s the longest of his symphonies and has an atmosphere of grandeur, with musical imageery of great originality and beauty. By the time he wrote this C major Symphony, Schumann had already completed his Symphony No. 1 and the first version of his D minor Symphony, which would eventually become his Symphony No. 4 after the composer revised it in 1851, when he at first called it called it a Symphony-Fantasia, with the sub-title Symphony in One Movement. Perhaps his most popular and most attractive symphony, it has an alluring introductory Romanze followed by a vigorous Scherzo and brilliant Finale. In the year commemorating the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann’s birth, Guild has released this unique coupling of his Second and Fourth Symphonies, recorded between 1940 and 1946 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Arturo Toscanini and Bruno Walter. The disc also includes a stunning performance under Toscanini of the Manfred Overture. The performances shed new light on the approaches to Schumann’s music by two of the greatest conductors of the 20th-century and the NBC mono broadcast sound has been dramatically improved. Other new releases by Guild include FAREWELL  (GUILD GMCD 7342) including Haydn’s wonderful ‘Farewell’ Symphony and four works by 20th-century Swiss composers Frank Martin, Wladimir Vogel, Hermann Haller and Hans Schaueble; GUITAR WORKS (GUILD GMCD 7347) by Rodrigo, Turina, Boccherini, Assad and others, played by the brilliant young guitarist Admir Doci; and BAP NOS  (GUILD GMCD 7349) In Memoriam to Swiss composer Meinrad Schütter, who would have been celebrating his 100th birthday in 2010. On this CD, Meinrad Schütter’s music is combined in a unique way with Gregorian music, music by Leoš Janácek and Christian Henking. The CD shows how creative musical work gets embedded into time periods, an endless cycle of inspiration, processing and new creation.