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Toscanini Conducts The Orchestra Of La Scala

Beethoven / Toscanini
Release Date: 07/21/1998 
Label:  Music & Arts Programs Of America Catalog #: 1027   Spars Code: AAD 
Composer:  Ludwig van BeethovenRichard Wagner
Performer:  Giacinto PrandelliGabriella GattiFedora BarbieriTancredi Pasero
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala OrchestraMilan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 2 Hours 16 Mins. 

Special Order: This CD requires additional production time and ships within 2-3 business days.  

This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

With the exception of the Ninth Symphony, all of the items in this set have had previous release, first in a two-LP Relief edition (see Fanfare 5:5) and more recently on an Iron Needle CD. Both of those editions and this new one draw upon the same sources. As I noted in reviewing the LP set, the sound of that source is far from ideal, with a peculiar frequency balance that creates a steely ambience redolent of black-label Mercury LPs of the late 40s. But there is ample presence, and everything is listenable and open to some improvement with an equalizer. The prize among all these items is the Beethoven First Symphony. Along with a 1943 broadcast of the score (never issued commercially) it ranks among Toscanini's finest accounts of the work; Read more it is more genial than the NBC recording of 1951 and suggestive of the conductor's 1937 BBC version while remaining free of that one's occasionally frazzled looseness. As in that BBC version, however, the opening chord is executed with an imprecise ker-plunk. As Harvey Sachs noted in his superb biography of Toscanini, the Maestro addressed technical deficiencies in the postwar Scala orchestra by telling the musicians with typical directness, "Try to do better; otherwise drop dead." Rehearing all these performances suggests that the Scala ensemble was not quite up to world-class standards. Still, there is much to admire in the other Beethoven pieces and the Wagner works. Certainly this Meistersinger Prelude has a breadth absent from all of Toscanini's NBC versions, though it lacks the power of his equally broad but tauter 1936 performance of the work with the New York Philharmonic (also never released commercially). And the Tannhäuser and Egmont pieces are less valuable than they once were, the former no longer absent from Toscanini's "official" discography, the latter now available in the conductor's superior 1939 NBC performance.

What, then, of this 1946 Beethoven Ninth? For anyone interested in Toscanini, it should surely command attention. But a few caveats must be noted. For one, the sound, at best, is mediocre and often not even that: Surface grit intrudes, distortion is not infrequent, and dynamic range is limited. Some improvement can be effected with and equalizer, but this also italicizes the basic blemishes. Another problem is the absence of a significant piece of the finale. As a result Music & Arts has filled the this large gap—from the beginning of the entry of the movement's main theme to the middle of the tenor's alla marcia—with the needed passage from Toscanini's 1939 broadcast. Not only does this produce a contrast in timbre, it creates an even greater linguistic contrast, the NBC performance being sung in German, this Scala account in Italian. Thus we get the tenor's solo in disparate voices, timbres, and languages, but, almost miraculously, one tempo.

Assuming one's willingness to accept these flaws, the basic question that remains is: What can be learned about Toscanini's conception of the Ninth from this performance? Not too much, I suspect. The first movement exposes some interesting voice-leading absent from the conductor's 1952 recording, but this may simply be an illusion created by less than ideal microphone placement. Occasionally, the first movement features hints of the freedom in Toscanini's 1938 broadcast, but it remains much closer to the studio effort. Perhaps the second movement, as Christopher Dyment's informed annotations suggest, is a bit more "demonic" here than in the 1952 effort, but not enough to make a significant difference. The slow movement is a shade faster than in the recording, and if, as Dyment suggests, it is more "intimate," it may well be an illusion created by the considerably cruder sound. And the Italian portions of the finale require occasional agogic adjustments to conform to the language's different stress: Note, for example, the Maestoso passage just before the closing orchestral peroration.

Certainly, for anyone interested in Toscanini, this is a valuable release, but—especially with respect to the Ninth—one whose value lies with archival study rather than sheer musical pleasure. All things considered, Toscanini's most satisfying account of the Ninth remains the studio effort. It is not ideal, of course, the finale there in particular being occasionally rushed. Otherwise, Toscanini made a fair assessment when he noted after making the recording, "That's the best I can do." Music & Arts acknowledges (albeit in small print) the substitution in the finale, and the warts on the sources are also pointed out, but only in the booklet sealed in shrinkwrap. And one conspicuous error eluded a proofreader's eye, the Egmont Overture being op. 84, not op. 15 as the M & A cover cites. One thing not to forget: Warts and all, this set is a fascinating walk into history.

-- Mortimer H. Frank, FANFARE [11/1998] Read less

Works on This Recording

1. Egmont, Op. 84: Overture by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1810; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/07/1946 
Venue:  Kunsthaus, Lucerne, Switzerland 
Length: 8 Minutes 55 Secs. 
2. Symphony no 1 in C major, Op. 21 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 07/07/1946 
Venue:  Kunsthaus, Lucerne, Switzerland 
3. Symphony no 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Giacinto Prandelli (Tenor), Gabriella Gatti (Soprano), Fedora Barbieri (Mezzo Soprano),
Tancredi Pasero (Bass)
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra,  Milan Teatro alla Scala Chorus
Period: Classical 
Written: 1822-1824; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 06/24/1946 
Venue:  Teatro Alla Scala, Milan, Italy 
Language: Italian 
Notes: This selection includes a portion of the finale recorded in December, 1939 that was missing from the 78 rpm recordings of the 1946 concert. 
4. Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg: Act 1 Prelude by Richard Wagner
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1867; Germany 
Date of Recording: 07/07/1946 
Venue:  Kunsthaus, Lucerne, Switzerland 
5. Lohengrin: Act 3 Prelude by Richard Wagner
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1847; Germany 
Date of Recording: 07/07/1946 
Venue:  Kunsthaus, Lucerne, Switzerland 
6. Tannhäuser: Overture and Venusberg Music by Richard Wagner
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Milan Teatro alla Scala Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845/1861; Germany 
Date of Recording: 07/07/1946 
Venue:  Kunsthaus, Lucerne, Switzerland 

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