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Notes and Editorial Reviews
MEMORIAL TRIBUTE TO TOSCANINI
Arturo Toscanini, cond; NBC SO
GUILD 2364/65, mono (2 CDs: 151:30)
No. 2. Passacaglia and Fugue in c.
String Sonata No. 3.
Concerto Grosso in d.
Symphony No. 9:
This release features live performances on the first of these two CDs, the second being devoted exclusively to rehearsals in studio 8H in 1946 and ’47. The two works by Bach also took place there, the
in 1938, the Passacaglia and Fugue in 1947. With one major exception this is a remarkably fine transfer of the Second
: clean, accurate in timbre, and refreshingly transparent. Unfortunately, it has one major flaw, pitched as it is a half-tone flat. I do not have “absolute” pitch, but it was clear from the very first measures that the pitch was low—a flaw that also imposes an audible distortion of tempo, making things sound a bit slower than they actually were. This is all the more unfortunate as the small ensemble (with harpsichord played by Erich Leinsdorf) suggests how Toscanini’s approach to Bach anticipated “period” practices. But it must be admitted that the solo trumpeter is having difficulty with his instrument’s higher registers. Still it is fascinating to hear how Toscanini had good instincts about Baroque style The Passacaglia is another matter, Respighi’s lush orchestration being a far cry from that of the organ for which it was intended. Still, one can admire the steady unity of Toscanini’s performance, which benefits from some of the best recorded sound to have been produced in studio 8H. The two remaining concert items took place in Carnegie Hall, the Rossini in November 1952 from the conductor’s penultimate season, the Vivaldi (which also occurred on his very first NBC concert) in March of 1954, near the close of his last season. Oddly, that earlier account included a harpsichord, which, in this later one, if indeed there, is inaudible. The Rossini—light and charming—offers a prime example of how, when appropriate, Toscanini could be refreshingly relaxed and graceful. The sound in both instances is fine.
The second disc offers the rehearsals, with informative commentary from Marcia Davenport. Although some of these segments have appeared in the pre-CD era on LP, they make for fascinating listening as a group. For one thing, Toscanini’s infamous eruptions are not present. This is not surprising, their occurrence (if sometimes volcanic) comprising but a small percentage of the many hours he spent in rehearsal. Indeed, what one hears throughout all of these excerpts is a meticulous conductor, fully clear about what he wants and utterly patient in achieving his desired ends. Particularly amusing is his difficulty in getting the desired tempo in the main section of
The Magic Flute
Overture. In frustration, he tells the musicians that they are adhering to
tempo not his. “My tempo may be wrong” he says, “but is
, and I want it.” The excerpts from the Beethoven Ninth are drawn from the opening measures for the double basses in the finale. Here one encounters his insistence on precision and willingness to work at achieving it. It is a display of the patience that typified his rehearsals. The same is true for the segments drawn from the 1946 rehearsal of the second act of
. As Marcia Davenport points out, the singers are in the studio, but Toscanini wants them to save their voices and remain silent in his initial preparation of the orchestra; so he sings each part (sometimes with croaking difficulty) while conducting. His energy and clarity of thought are astonishing, especially from a man in his 80th year. In short, for anyone interested in Toscanini, this release should be required listening.
FANFARE: Mortimer H. Frank
Works on This Recording
La traviata: Excerpt(s) by Giuseppe Verdi
Written: 1853; Italy
Date of Recording: 11/28/1946
Length: 16 Minutes 54 Secs.
Brandenburg Concerto no 2 in F major, BWV 1047 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Robert Bloom (Oboe),
John Wummer (Flute),
Mischa Misschakoff (Violin),
Bernard Baker (Trumpet)
Written: 1717-1718; ?Cöthen, Germany
Length: 12 Minutes 13 Secs.
Passacaglia in C minor, BWV 582 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Written: circa 1708-1712; Arnstadt, Germany
Length: 11 Minutes 51 Secs.
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