C1990. ARTURO TOSCANINI Cond. NBC SO: Die Zauberflöte - Overture; Divertimento #15 in B-flat, K 287; ‘Haffner’ Symphony #35 in D, K 385 (all Mozart); Colas Breugnon - Overture (Kabalevsky); Symphony in D (Cherubini); Tod und Verklärung (Strauss); Rehearsals of Mozart and Strauss. (Canada) 3-Immortal Performances IPCD 1147, Live Performances, NY 3 Nov.,1946, NBC Studio 8-H; 8 March, 1952, Carnegie Hall, with Broadcast Commentary by Ben Grauer. Transfers by Richard Caniell. Handsome 26pp. booklet features Notes by Robert Matthew-Walker & Richard Caniell). (Three Discs, priced as two) - 793888152915
“TOSCANINI: NBC CONCERTS AND REHEARSALS 1946 & 1952 is a new release from Immortal Performances. The set (three discs, priced as two) includes two complete Toscanini-NBC SO broadcasts. The first is an all-Mozart program from NBC’s Studio 8-H, broadcast on November 3, 1946. The second, broadcast from Carnegie Hall on March 8, 1952, comprises Kabalevsky’s COLAS BREUGNON Overture, Cherubini’s Symphony in D, and Richard Strauss’ tone poem, ‘Death and Transfiguration’. As I’ll note in this review, other Toscanini-NBC SO performances of the repertoire on these concert broadcasts have been released commercially by RCA. In the case of the Mozart ‘Haffner’ Symphony, and Cherubini and Strauss works, the recordings were made in conjunction with the concerts featured here. But what sets this release apart are the lengthy and engrossing rehearsal sequences, affording a priceless window into Toscanini’s craft, and his relationship with the NBC SO. The November 3, 1946 all-Mozart program begins with the Overture to the opera THE MAGIC FLUTE. Two other recordings of this work are included on the 72-volume ‘Arturo Toscanini: The Complete RCA Collection’; BBC SO, June 2, 1938; NBC SO, November 26, 1949. All three are similar in concept, with Toscanini delineating a sharp contrast between the grandeur of the Adagio introduction and ensuing Allegro. Indeed, the introduction is taken at a strikingly broad tempo, enhancing the impact of the fleet principal section. My favorite among the three is the BBC recording, which has a special warmth and sonic glow. But all three are striking renditions. Following the MAGIC FLUTE Overture, Toscanini and the NBC SO perform Mozart’s Divertimento in B-flat, K 287. A recording of the work by the same artists from the following year (November 18, 1947) is part of the complete RCA Toscanini edition. Again, the artistic profile is consistent (in each, Toscanini omits the second of the work’s two minuets). The sound of the 1947 recording has a warmer quality and therefore, to my ears, reflects more of the work’s lightness and charm. But in each case, we hear Toscanini taking great care to wed precise execution with a glowing and lyrical orchestral sonority. It’s very clear in all of the performances on this concert (and in the ensuing rehearsal sequences) that Toscanini viewed Mozart as a robust musical voice, one not restricted by the proprieties of the Classical era. That concept is most clearly articulated in the program’s concluding work, the ‘Haffner’ Symphony. The Complete Toscanini Edition includes a spring, 1929 recording with the NY Phil, and November 4, 1946 NBC SO recording. It’s not surprising that the November 3, 1946 broadcast, and the recording made the following day, are cut from the same cloth. But their contrast with the 1929 NY Phil version is of considerable interest. In that earlier recording, Toscanini favors broader tempos, and a flexibility of phrasing that one might associate more closely with the Romantic repertoire of the 19th century. It’s a marvelous recording, and well worth hearing (there is a fine restoration by IP, part of its complete survey of the Toscanini-NY Phil recordings). The 1946 broadcast and recording offer a far more propulsive and dynamic view of the score. They are thrilling accounts, but ones that still take the time to savor such moments of repose as the Symphony’s second movement, and trio in the third movement minuet. I would not want to be without either Toscanini’s 1929 or 1946 ‘takes’ on the score. Richard Caniell has taken the problematic source material of the broadcast, and given us a thoroughly listenable and enjoyable experience, further enhanced by host Ben Grauer’s commentary.
No such audio challenges attend the March 8, 1952 Carnegie Hall broadcast, sonically competitive with the parallel commercial recordings of the Cherubini and Strauss. Toscanini and the NBC SO recorded Kabalevsky’s COLAS BREUGNON Overture on April 8, 1946. Both the 1946 recording and 1952 broadcast are superb performances; brilliantly executed, and brimming with energy and humor. But the sonics of the 1952 broadcast are noticeably superior in dynamic range, warmth, and detail, making the later COLAS BREUGNON a brief but treasurable acquisition. The March 10, 1952 recording of Luigi Cherubini’s Symphony in D is justly famous. Toscanini invests all the preparation, musicianship, and passion he bestowed upon Beethoven’s contemporaneous works. If the Cherubini D-Major is not quite in Beethoven’s league, in the hands of Toscanini and the NBC-SO it emerges as a bracing, melodious, and convincing symphonic statement. The March 8 broadcast and March 10 recording are quite similar in outlook. While both took place in Carnegie Hall, the absence of an audience for the commercial recording results in a more resonant acoustic. As such, the two versions make for an interesting comparison. Toscanini recorded Richard Strauss’ DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION twice. In addition to the March 10, 1952 NBC SO recording, there is a February 11, 1942 version with the Philadelphia Orchestra (again, beautifully restored in an IP release). Toscanini was not completely satisfied with the March 10, 1952 recording. As a result, a considerable amount of the March 8 broadcast was used to fashion a record that met with the Maestro’s approval. And so, the differences between the broadcast and commercial recording are even less evident than in the Cherubini. In both the Philadelphia and NBC SO versions, Toscanini proves himself a master of Strauss’ tone poem. Toscanini was, of course, one of the preeminent opera conductors of his generation. And Toscanini mines all of the dramatic potential of DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION to its fullest. In both the Philadelphia and NBC SO accounts, Toscanini elicits orchestral playing of arresting concentration and beauty. All told, the March 8, 1952 concert (again with Ben Grauer’s announcements) is a thrilling experience. And both the 1946 and 1952 concerts are worthy supplements to the commercially-issued recordings of the same repertoire.
But for me, the finest treasures of this set may be found in the extended rehearsal sequences. IP includes the entire rehearsal of the Mozart MAGIC FLUTE Overture and ‘Haffner’ Symphony. There is also a generous portion of the Strauss DEATH AND TRANSFIGURATION rehearsal. All told, the set includes almost two hours of rehearsal material. Prior to receiving this IP set, I had heard several hours of Toscanini in rehearsal. The impression derived from the rehearsal sequences on this release is consistent with what I’ve previously experienced. Discussions of Toscanini’s rehearsals quite often focus upon his legendary displays of temper. To be sure, they occurred with some frequency, and could be quite epic. My personal favorite is Toscanini’s confrontation with the NBC SO’s contrabasses, who repeatedly fail to play Amneris’s entrance music in Verdi’s AIDA to the Maestro’s satisfaction. After several volcanic eruptions, Toscanini admonishes the musicians: ‘Don’t play from memory! You have no memory’. The truth is, the displays of temper were far less common than one might be led to expect, and generally occurred only when Toscanini had exhausted other methods of conveying his point. For the far greater part, Toscanini’s rehearsals were all business, and very productive. Toscanini was not a conductor given to long explications about the music and its meaning. He preferred to let his musicians play as much as possible, stopping only when necessary to improve musical execution. And believe it or not, Toscanini was also capable of a joke well-timed and aimed, that served to reduce the tension. These are all qualities greatly appreciated by any professional orchestral musician. By the time of the 1946 rehearsal, Toscanini had been conducting the NBC SO for almost a decade. And it’s clear in listening to that rehearsal (and of course, the 1952 Strauss rehearsal) that the conductor and orchestra understood each other very well, and what was needed by both to use their time together most efficiently. It’s a marvelous gift to be able to hear these legendary artists collaborate, and to witness the fruits of that collaboration in the complete broadcasts. The accompanying booklet includes Richard Caniell’s commentary on Toscanini in rehearsal, as well as his customary Recording Notes. Robert Matthew-Walker provides an extended and informative essay on the featured works and Toscanini’s interpretations. I will add here that in 2003, Guild Historical issued the November 3, 1946 Mozart concert and rehearsal materials, also with Caniell restorations. The IP version offers superior sonics, with finer detail, and a far more pleasant (but no less impactful) acoustic in the louder passages. I think that all fans of Toscanini will want to hear this set, both for the fine broadcast performances, and the fascinating rehearsal sequences. They are a most valuable window into the legacy of a remarkable and commanding musician. Recommended. Five stars: Treasurable documents of Toscanini in rehearsal and performance with the NBC SO.”
- Ken Meltzer, FANFARE