Notes and Editorial Reviews
This isn't music-making for the timid, used to the sanitized, faultless performances on your everyday CD. In its raw, unvarnished way, it is daring, fierce, mesmerizing, to be heard when you're feeling strong of spirit and mind. Toscanini views Fidelio and indeed Leonore No. 3 as stark drama, devoid of sentimentality. The winds leap from the speakers, the brass blare ferociously as the old wizard tells a story of the struggle for freedom in a year when, even in the United States, events far away in Europe must have felt very present. In achieving his end, he demands and mostly receives superhuman efforts from his charges: speeds are nervously fast, rhythms alert, as though the events were happening in the conductor's presence. The wind
section is prominent in a way we have since heard from Norrington in Beethoven, indubitably influenced by his predecessor. An occasional untidiness is a price worth paying for such an edge-of-your-seat interpretation. Inevitably the epithet 'hard-driven' has been used about the performance: a visionary conductor, inclined to the dictatorial, demands much from his performers and listeners. No compromises can be made. We won't always want to hear the score done like this; once in a way, it is cleansing and salutary.
According to Harvey Sachs's notes, Rose Bampton once said that Toscanini declared ''the words came first and that the music was composed afterwards. So we had to understand the deepest significance of the words in order to be expressive.'' Certainly all the singers enunciate with the utmost clarity, to a fault in the case of the inadequate Rocco, whose German is poor. Bampton herself, although no Lehmann (Toscanini's Salzburg interpreter) in matters of voice or diction, is a determined and dedicated Leonore, whose ''Abscheulicher'' comes from a later session and is the best part of her performance—elsewhere she is sometimes off form vocally. The young Steber is a lovely Marzelline. Although not one's ideal Florestan, Peerce sings with his customary honesty and technical security. Janssen may not have the incisive bass-baritone for Pizarro, but he projects his part with biting venom. Nobody else makes much of an impression and the chorus is no more than adequate—Robert Shaw hadn't yet arrived on the scene—but the sum is greater than the parts.
Much as one may regret the break for Leonore No. 3, the performance is so electrifying as to silence criticism, but exception has to be taken to the complete absence of dialogue, an essential part of this score. The digital tapes, made from NBC acetates rather than RCA originals, have a little more breadth and reliability than previous transfers to LP. In any case, reservations about sound should deter nobody from sampling this unique experience.
-- Alan Blyth, Gramophone
Works on This Recording
Fidelio, Op. 72 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Eleanor Steber (Soprano),
Herbert Janssen (Baritone),
Rose Bampton (Soprano),
Jan Peerce (Tenor),
Sid Belarsky (Bass),
Joseph Laderoute (Tenor),
Nicola Moscona (Bass)
NBC Symphony Chorus,
NBC Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1804/1814; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 12/1944
Venue: Live NBC Studio 8-H, New York City
Length: 112 Minutes 16 Secs.
Notes: Composition written: Vienna, Austria (1804).
Composition revised: Vienna, Austria (1806).
Composition revised: Vienna, Austria (1814).
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