C1806. ARTURO TOSCANINI Cond. Philadelphia Orchestra: Victor Recordings Restored, Vol. II, incl. Tod und Verklärung (Strauss); w.University of Pennsylvania Women’s Glee Club; Edwina Eustis & Florence Kirk (sopranos): A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Incidental Music (Mendelssohn), recorded 12 Jan., 1942; ARTURO TOSCANINI Cond. NBC S.O.: Die Zauberflöte – Overture (Mozart); Symphony #99 in E-flat (Haydn); Ein Heldenleben (Strauss), Live Performance, 1 Feb., 1941, with broadcast commentary by Gene Hamilton. Includes 22pp Booklet with Program Notes by Robert Matthew-Walker & Richard Caniell. (Canada) 2-Immortal Performances IPCD 1129. - 787790581660
“Immortal Performances continues its valuable documentation of the legacy of Arturo Toscanini with this superb two-disc set, comprising 1942 RCA studio recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra, and a complete February 1, 1941 NBC Symphony Orchestra broadcast. In the Nov./Dec. 2019 issue of FANFARE (43:2), I reviewed an IP set that included magnificent restorations of Toscanini’s celebrated 1942 Philadelphia Orchestra recordings of the Tchaikovsky ‘Pathétique’ Symphony, and Debussy’s LA MER. In my review, I reported the superiority of the IP restorations over those in RCA’s ‘Arturo Toscanini: The Complete RCA Collection’, and noted: ‘as a result of this significant aural improvement, the musical and dramatic impact of the interpretations / performances is greatly enhanced’. Perhaps the improvement in the IP restorations of the Philadelphia versions of Mendelssohn’s Incidental Music to A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM and Strauss DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION is not quite as dramatic. Nevertheless, the IP restorations still outshine those by RCA, and by a noticeable margin. In both the Mendelssohn and Strauss, Richard Caniell and IP have succeeded in reproducing an acoustic that reveals more presence and definition in quieter episodes, in conjunction with greater breadth, concert hall ambience, and beauty in passages with more forceful dynamics. If you don’t already own these performances (and you should!), the IP release is now your first choice. And even if these recordings are already a part of your collection, you owe it to yourself to hear what IP has achieved with the source material. The performances, well known, and justifiably celebrated, are always worth revisiting. As I wrote in my Nov. / Dec. 2019 review: ‘The Philadelphia-Toscanini RCA recordings are a coveted part of the Italian Maestro’s discography, pairing a conductor at the height of his powers with one of the world’s great orchestras. And indeed, it is a thrill to hear Toscanini’s discipline, precision, and drive wedded to an orchestra with the glowing sonority of Stokowski’s Philadelphians (of course, Stokowski could be a stern taskmaster, and Toscanini could, as well as any conductor, inspire an orchestra to play radiantly)’. In these recordings, we find Toscanini adopting a more expansive and flexible view than may be found in NBC SO performances of the same repertoire, and especially given the beauty of the playing of the Philadelphians, that is all to the better. The Mendelssohn MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM music brims with a glowing sonority, juxtaposing a magical sense of lyrical repose with moments of irrepressible energy and humor. Toscanini was a great Strauss interpreter, and both the Philadelphia DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION and 1941 NBC SO EIN HELDENLEBEN are memorable renditions. Toscanini’s keen sense of drama generally carried over from his operatic performances to his interpretations of orchestral repertoire, both absolute and programmatic. In DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION, the juxtaposition of the struggles of the protagonist’s final moments on earth, and radiant ascent to heaven, are conveyed with the utmost intensity and humanity. Toscanini’s pacing is spot-on, and the level of execution by the Philadelphia Orchestra is that of an ensemble at the height of its powers. Treasurable recordings, and again, reproduced here in their finest sound to date.
The February 1, 1941 Toscanini-NBC SO complete broadcast is yet another gift. As is IP’s custom, generous portions of the radio host’s (here, Gene Hamilton) commentary are included, transporting the listener back to another era. On this occasion, both Toscanini and the NBC are in top form. The concert program includes Mozart’s Overture to DIE ZAUBERFLÖTE, Haydn’s Symphony #99 in E-flat , and Strauss’ EIN HELDENLEBEN - it’s a veritable E-flat Major feast! I’ve commented in reviews of several IP releases of Toscanini recordings quite often, that the actual performances don’t comport with the stereotypes attached to this great conductor. And in this broadcast, we once again come face to face with a conductor who is hardly a slave to quick tempos and metronomic phrasing. The MAGIC FLUTE Overture, for example, opens with a glorious account of the slow-tempo introduction, broadly paced, with a rich sonority that, in this restoration, gives full due to the bass voices of the orchestra (the latter quality is evident throughout this broadcast, to gratifying effect). The ensuing Allegro is taken at a whirlwind pace, but never sounds rushed, and there is admirable flexibility in the phrasing. In the Haydn Symphony #99, Toscanini again explores the expressive potential of the moments in broader tempo. Both the first movement’s introduction and entire second movement are marked Adagio, and Toscanini most certainly adheres to Haydn’s directive. Elsewhere, quick-tempo portions are fleet, but as in the Mozart, never to excess. And it’s wonderful to hear Toscanini adopt a tender, flexible approach where warranted, as in the first movement Vivace assai’s tender second principal subject. I wish Toscanini had taken a few more of Haydn’s score repeats, but both the practice of day, and in all likelihood, constraints in allotted broadcast time, dictated otherwise. Still, it is a wonderful performance. The HELDENLEBEN is absolutely breathtaking. The opening section, ‘The Hero’, embodies all the unstoppable momentum and vaulting pride Strauss intended, as Toscanini elicits a grand, warm, and singing tone from the orchestra, enhanced by razor-sharp execution. The ‘Hero’s Adversaries’ (the composer’s critics) are here an especially petty and malevolent group, thanks to a quick pacing and acidic, pinpoint articulation. In ‘The Hero’s Companion’, Toscanini allows concertmaster Mischa Mischakoff ample breadth and freedom to create an unforgettable portrait of Strauss’ wife, Pauline. The ensuing battle sequence is breathtaking in terms of its momentum, execution, and overwhelming power. Toscanini adopts a noticeably broad pace in the concluding two sections, ‘The Hero’s Works of Peace’ and ‘The Hero’s Retreat from the World’. As a result the music emerges with particular beauty, dignity and emotional impact. It would be difficult to overstate the drama and nobility that Toscanini and the NBC SO bring to this work. This is a HELDENLEBEN that must be a part of any representative collection. And in IP’s restoration, the entire broadcast may be heard in an acoustic that competes with commercial recordings of the era, and for that matter, is better than many such Toscanini-NBC SO RCA releases. Marvelous.
The booklet includes Robert Matthew-Walker’s extensive, thought-provoking essay, as well as Richard Caniell’s Recording Notes. In those notes, Caniell informs us: ‘we have experimented with the remaining Toscanini Philadelphia Orchestra recordings and have determined that we cannot achieve a significant enough improvement for ‘Iberia’, ‘Queen Mab Scherzo’ and the Schubert Ninth Symphony, so there is no prospect of further work by us on these’. As disappointed as I am to hear that news, I am grateful for the marvelous work Caniell and IP did on the Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Mendelssohn, and Strauss. Couple that with the magnificent February 1, 1941 NBC broadcast, and you have a release that earns the highest recommendation.”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE, March / April 2020