C1556. ARTURO TOSCANINI Cond. NBC S.O.: Il Signor Bruschino - Overture (Rossini), Les francs-juges - Overture; Romeo et Juliette - Love Scene; Queen Mab Scherzo; Le Damnation de Faust - Rakoczy March (all Berlioz); Symphony #3 in a (Mendelssohn), Complete Concert of 5 April, 1941, Studio 8H, New York, w.broadcast commentary by Gene Hamilton; w.Vina Bovy, Kerstin Thorborg, Jan Peerce, Ezio Pinza & Schola Cantorum: Choral Symphony #9 in D (Beethoven), Live Performance, 6 Feb., 1938, Carnegie Hall, w.broadcast commentary by Gene Hamilton & Milton Cross. (Canada) 2-Immortal Performances IPCD 1079. Restoration by Richard Caniell. Includes 34pp Booklet w.notes by Robert Matthew-Walker & Richard Caniell. - 019962665615
"Despite the similarities between the various Toscanini Beethoven Ninth performances, none is a carbon copy of the other, each with individual touches and strengths. The February 6, 1938 Ninth is played with an arresting combination of stunning intensity and tonal beauty. And the finale includes what is probably the finest quartet of vocal soloists to be found among the Toscanini performances preserved on recordings. Olin Downes, music critic for THE NEW YORK TIMES deemed it 'the most dramatic performance of the Ninth Symphony it has ever been this writer's privilege to hear'. It is a rendition that certainly merits a place in any representative collection of Toscanini's recorded legacy, and should be of interest to all who love this unique masterpiece. Comparing the new mastering of this performance with a very fine 2004 Music & Arts issue reveals a warmer and more natural acoustic in the Immortal Performances release, better conveying the sense of the expanse of Carnegie Hall, but without any corresponding loss of clarity or definition.
The booklet contains the Olin Downes NEW YORK TIMES review of the Beethoven Ninth performance, an essay by Robert Matthew-Walker on the featured works and Toscanini's interpretations, Richard Caniell's Recording Notes, and description of Toscanini's contentious relationship with Charles O'Connell, RCA Victor's head of recordings. This is a most welcome set that will be self-recommending to fans of Toscanini, and well worth exploring by all who love this repertoire.
Some of the performances from the April 5, 1941 NBC Symphony Orchestra program have been previously released as individual items. The Immortal Performances release is, however, the first time the concert has been presented in its entirety. It's fascinating to listen to how Toscanini manipulates the NBC SO's tonal quality to showcase the different sound worlds of Rossini, Mendelssohn, and Berlioz. The concert, in very good broadcast sound for the period, opens with Rossini's Overture to the opera IL SIGNOR BRUSCHINO, light as a feather, immaculately played, and brimming with a subtle and delightful flexibility of tempo, too often overlooked in assessing Toscanini's art. The April 5, 1941 Mendelssohn Third Symphony is the only performance of the work by Toscanini that is preserved on disc, and it is a very special one indeed. Toscanini takes a strikingly broad approach to the first movement's introduction that nonetheless generates a breathtaking intensity and forward drive, before resolving to the ensuing principal quick-tempo section. Here, Toscanini's fleet tempos, superb execution by the NBC SO, and (once again) brilliant application of rubato, make the opening movement the arresting dramatic experience it should be. The second-movement scherzo, once again taken at an impressive clip, ideally balances the quicksilver and more robust rustic elements. The third-movement Adagio glows with a rapt lyricism, but never loses its sense of pulse and momentum. The finale opens with a violent, razor-sharp fortissimo chord. From there, Toscanini and the Orchestra generate breathtaking momentum, culminating in a blazing account of the closing bars. This is among the most compelling accounts of the Mendelssohn Third I have ever experienced. For want of a better term, the new Immortal Performances set offers a more 'musical' document of this sterling interpretation.
The April 5, 1941 concert concludes with four excerpts by one of Toscanini's favorites, French composer Hector Berlioz. The Overture to the early, unfinished opera LES FRANCS-JUGES is beautifully and enthusiastically dispatched (like the Mendelssohn, this is the only recording of Toscanini performing the work). Two ravishing excerpts from the dramatic symphony ROMEO ET JULIETTE may well be the highlight of this unforgettable concert. The Love Scene is performed with aching tenderness, and a lyricism that flows unabated from start to finish. The occasional appearance of delicate string portamentos is an added delight. Over the years, Toscanini poured his heart and soul into surmounting the fiendish challenges posed by the Queen Mab Scherzo. It is music that demands almost superhuman precision of execution, all the while conveying an otherworldly delicacy. Here, Toscanini and the NBC SO deliver a sterling rendition. The softer passages of the two ROMEO ET JULIETTE excerpts contain the most noticeable surface noise, but not enough to detract from the magic of these renditions. The program concludes with a propulsive, hair-raising performance of the Rakoczy March from THE DAMNATION OF FAUST."
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, Sept. /Oct., 2017