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Complete Collections - Beethoven: 9 Symphonies / Toscanini


Release Date: 12/09/2003 
Label:  Rca Victor Red Seal Catalog #: 55702   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jan PeerceNan MerrimanEileen FarrellNorman Scott
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NBC Symphony OrchestraRobert Shaw Chorale
Number of Discs: 5 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 5 Hours 55 Mins. 

CD not available: This title is currently only available as an MP3 download.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

The commitment from conductor and orchestra alike is total. This shines through in these incandescent performances. One recalls the Toscanini quote "Is not Napoleon. Is not Eroica. Is Allegro con brio." These are pure performances defined clearly by the scores and nothing else.

Review

The record industry is in recycle mode again. These definitive performances have been in and out of the catalogue intermittently since the 1950s; more in than out, I am pleased to say. Each repackaging makes the cycle more convenient moving from single discs at full price, single discs at mid price, twofers at mid-price, to the current format, a boxed set at bargain price.

Each time they are
Read more re-issued, we are told that the miracles of modern technology have been applied to them, making a giant step forward in sound quality. Fortunately, although the booklet informs us that the recordings have been re-mastered yet again (2003), there is no marketing blurb informing us of the dramatic improvements once again. This is very good, as to these ears, there is very little difference in sound quality between this issue and the twofers, which were released about five years ago. These made an improvement albeit fairly slight on their predecessors with a taming of the upper frequencies and a definite warming of the sound. If you have these versions, there is little need to invest in the current set, unless you are looking to save space on your shelves, as the present box, containing card sleeves is a definite advantage in this area. In addition, there is a very informative multilingual booklet which enhances this issue.

These performances are extremely interesting to those of us who have experienced the sometimes bogus claims to authenticity of the period performance brigade. Tempi in this set, are often as fast as many of the competing versions, and Toscanini is well known for his strict adherence to the composer’s instructions. Although academic research has opened our senses to Beethoven’s tempo markings, many of these are almost met in the present very fine performances.

Toscanini’s was insistent on his orchestras playing accurately and together. What is clear from listening to these performances is that standards of orchestral playing in the 1950s have certainly been improved upon in the intervening years. Modern cycles can be and often are better played than these, but are there any other factors which should direct your intention towards the current set – most emphatically yes!

As was the fashion in the 1950s, no first movement repeats are played. The commitment from conductor and orchestra alike is total. This shines through in these incandescent performances. One recalls the Toscanini quote "Is not Napoleon. Is not Eroica. Is Allegro con brio." These are pure performances defined clearly by the scores and nothing else. Gone are the interpretative features of other contemporary great conductors (Furtwängler, Mengelberg and Weingartner, to mention just three), each of whom recorded complete Beethoven Symphony cycles at about the same time.

Comparing these cycles one is struck by how deeply felt they are and that they are like chalk and cheese. Mengelberg, and to a lesser extent Furtwängler, impose a thick layer of interpretative detail on top of the scores with fluctuations in tempo etc which add to or subtract from the performances depending upon your likes and dislikes. Weingartner is perhaps closer to Toscanini than the other two, but he does not appear to galvanise his players to the same extent.

No. 1 starts strongly and continues in this vein, with rapid tempi being utilised throughout. The second movement is straightforward with no nonsense playing from the orchestra. The scherzo explodes onto the scene with the orchestra playing for all it is worth. The finale hurries along with aplomb, and makes an extremely favourable impression.

The Second, is played in a similar vein to its predecessor, with the scherzo and finale as energetic as I am sure Beethoven intended. This is edge-of-the-seat playing with a trace of distortion evident, but much less than on earlier releases.

The Eroica, with the Allegro con brio first movement just that, is a model of how Beethoven’s first major symphonic utterance should be played. Once again, there is a little distortion at the central climax of the movement, but not sounding nearly as uncomfortable as before. The virtuosity of the NBC players is clearly evident even though there are one or two slipshod moments. The scherzo and finale, with suitably bucolic horns thrill as few other performances.

The Eroica is coupled with No. 4, which is played absolutely straight without any of the rhythmic distortions of the first movement introduction as performed by many other less able conductors. We then move on to a violent performance of the Fifth, coupled with the Pastoral. This gives you an idea of how rapidly these performances are played. Again there is a little distortion, particularly near the end of the fifth, and in the storm of the Pastoral. This slight overload is not surprising given the amplitude of the sound which the engineers were trying to capture that day.

Disc four couples the 7th and 8th Symphonies. The Seventh bowls along with emphasis on the speed, rather than the dance. I wonder if Wagner’s description of this symphony as "the apotheosis of the dance" would have been given to the work if he had heard this performance.

The last disc in the box gives us the Choral, which starts off with each tremolando note being clearly audible (compare this with Furtwangler, who conjured up an impression of wonder by, contrary to the dictates of the score, running these notes together to satisfy his interpretative requirements). The last movement includes the wonderful Robert Shaw Chorale, one of the finest choirs in the world in its day. Often used by Toscanini in his choral and operatic recordings, one can easily hear why this should be so. All parts are clearly evident and the balance between the different voices is managed superbly well. In addition the soloists are all first rate. At the conclusion of the symphony, one feels that all concerned have indeed scaled the highest heights, and must have satisfied Beethoven’s vision.

Very highly recommended in its new format, unless the highest of fi is a strong requirement.

- John Phillips, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Symphony no 1 in C major, Op. 21 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: December 21, 1951 
Venue:  Carnegie Hall, New York 
2. Symphony no 2 in D major, Op. 36 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1801-1802; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: November 7, 1949 
3. Symphony no 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 "Eroica" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1803; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: December 6, 1953 
4. Symphony no 4 in B flat major, Op. 60 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1806; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: February 3, 1951 
5. Symphony no 5 in C minor, Op. 67 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1807-1808; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: March 22,1952 
6. Symphony no 6 in F major, Op. 68 "Pastoral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1808; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: January 14, 1952 
7. Symphony no 7 in A major, Op. 92 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1811-1812; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: November 9/10 1951 
8. Symphony no 8 in F major, Op. 93 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  NBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1812; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: November 11, 1951 
9. Symphony no 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral" by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer:  Jan Peerce (Tenor), Nan Merriman (Mezzo Soprano), Eileen Farrell (Soprano),
Norman Scott (Bass)
Conductor:  Arturo Toscanini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Robert Shaw Chorale,  NBC Symphony Orchestra
Period: Classical 
Written: 1822-1824; Vienna, Austria 
Date of Recording: 3/31/52 & 4/1/52 
Language: German 

Sound Samples

Adagio molto: Allegro con brio
Andante cantabile con moto
Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace
Adagio: Allegro molto e vivace
Adagio molto; Allegro con brio
Larghetto
Scherzo; Trio
Allegro molto
Allegro con brio
Marcia funebre: Adagio assai
Scherzo: Allegro vivace; Trio
Finale: Allegro molto; Poco andante; Presto
Adagio; Allegro vivace
Adagio
Menuetto: Allegro vivace
Allegro ma non troppo

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Still Great after all these years August 29, 2012 By Dennis Collins (Fremont, CA) See All My Reviews "The Toscanini set was my first collection of the Beethoven Symphonies on LP and introduced me to Beethoven"s works. I have subsequently replaced them over the years with collections by Bernstein, Walter, Von Karajan and LSO. I was pleased to find that they still hold up as a substantial intrepretation of Beethoven's works and mark Toscanini recordings as seminal in my classical music education
"
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 Fidelity and Power December 16, 2011 By T. Drake (South Euclid, OH) See All My Reviews "RCA/BMG have reissued these recordings numerous times since their initial LP release. To the best of my knowledge, they've never been out of print. The sound on various incarnations has varied, from the clean but compressed mono originals, fake stereo reissues in the 1960s, to at least four CD issues. In 1997, RCA totally reorganized and inventoried its massive vaults, which had been in disarray for decades. As a result, many original sources which had been declared "lost" were now "found." This new remastering is strikingly improved sonically over all earlier issues. Utilizing the best technology now available, RCA has also done the right thing by hiring a musician - conductor Ed Houser - rather than whiz-bang technicians to supervise the remastering. The NBC Symphony Orchestra now sounds better than ever before, with smoother strings, fuller winds, increased dynamic range, and less blotting out during fortissimos.

Perhaps no conductor of the 20th Century has been as misunderstood as Arturo Toscanini, as evidenced by the critical backlash with which he was assailed in the years following his death. That criticism was partly in reaction to the equally unbalanced adulation heaped upon him during his lifetime. I remember once mentioning to an acquaintance my admiration for Toscanini's Beethoven and Brahms, and he shot back, "He conducts everything too fast!" In fact, in comparison with other recordings and broadcasts of his era, Toscanini's conducting was not generally faster than average. In relation to TODAY'S phlegmatic tempos, however, Toscanini's pacing is definitely brisk. But what most people are hearing as fast is, in fact, Toscanini's characteristic rhythmic vitality and, occasionally, drive, which brings the faster movements to sparkling life. (The finale to Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is an example: the tempo is not unusually fast, but it SEEMS faster than normal because of the precise articulation and clarity.) Likewise, the slow movements are never dragged, and glow with Italianate warmth.

It is worth noting that RCA has made one major change in this reissue of Beethoven Symphonies: the 1949 studio recording of the "Eroica," heard in previous complete sets has been replaced by the 1953 live Carnegie Hall version. RCA does not credit the liner notes, but they are reprints of Mortimer H. Frank's excellent notes originally written for the early 1990s CD release.

RCA has so far only released Toscanini's core repertoire with the NBC Symphony--but they are more than welcome additions to the catalogue. The Maestro's recordings with the New Your Philharmonic, and The Philadelphia Orchestra should also be remastered, post-haste.

Follow up: Toscanini's Philly recordings have been remastered and issued Arturo Toscanini: The Complete Philadelphia Orchestra Recordings 1941-42. Get them, you won't regret it.
"
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