C1908. ARTURO TOSCANINI Cond. NBC S.O.: Barbiere - Overture (Rossini); 'Pathétique' Symphony #6 in b (Tschaikowsky). Music & Arts stereo 1194, Live Performance, 21 March, 1954, Carnegie Hall. Transfers by Aaron Z. Snyder. Long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 017685119422
“One irony of Arturo Toscanini's recorded legacy is that the overwhelming majority of his recordings, acclaimed as they are, do not give an accurate picture of how he actually sounded. All of Toscanini's recordings were in monaural sound, except for his final concert, released several years ago, and this penultimate concert, finally available after having been ‘lost’ for decades.
In his last two seasons with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, Toscanini had good days and bad days. His memory was fading, and the octogenarian conductor was at times simply not ‘in the moment’.
As with nearly everything Toscanini did, the performances here emerge as faithful to the text. Contrary to revisionist myth, Toscanini's tempos generally became slower, not faster, in his last few years, which this performance demonstrates. Conceptually, these performances are similar to the more familiar Toscanini recordings, but there are differences in details. The Rossini goes well from start to finish. However, the Tchaikovsky doesn't really come to life until four minutes into the first movement.
Although the substantial mishap of Toscanini's final concert is avoided, not all the playing is tidy. There is a brief bauble early in the first movement of the 'Pathétique', and there are several intonation problems throughout the performance. Yet the sonority of the NBC Symphony under Toscanini was truly luminescent, even beautiful, which was not often captured in the mono recordings.
As for the sound itself, it's too closely miked, as was the case with Toscanini's final concert. As a result, not all the balances are as Toscanini intended, and there is no sense of hall ambiance. Additionally, the stereo tape for the last two minutes of the third movement of the ‘Pathétique’ was spliced into a stereo demo reel and subsequently lost. The missing tape has been skillfully replaced with a clip from the mono broadcast and altered into simulated stereo. Yet this remains an invaluable document of the work of one of the greatest conductors of all time, and required listening for all Toscanini admirers.”
- Hank Drake
"The concert is in genuine stereo! Until now, Toscanini in stereo invariably meant the filtered and echoed electronic gimmicks with which RCA tried to modernize the flat mono sound of its most famous musician for renewed LP and tape marketing. This, though, is the real thing, even though it is not the standard ‘fifth row center’ perspective to which we are accustomed. Rather, it is a strange aural image in which strings are largely massed to the right, brass to the left and winds in the middle. But the sound has a sense of concert-hall atmosphere rather than the cramped, boxy tone which we have come to associate with late Toscanini until now. Once the instruments are spread out, middle voices emerge much more clearly and the beautiful orchestral blend evokes and confirms the wondrous descriptions of those who heard Toscanini live.
Any list of essential Toscanini CDs must now find room for this marvelous concert which gives us the opportunity to set the historical records straight and, if for only an hour, to revel in the sonic glory that was Toscanini.”
- Peter Gutmann, Classical Notes