Notes and Editorial Reviews
Fans of Toscanini's 1946 recording of Puccini's La Bohème will be happy to know that its best sounding "official" CD incarnation, released in 1991 via RCA's Toscanini Edition, is back in print, thanks to Arkivmusic.com's on-demand reissue program. Toscanini conducted the opera's 1896 premiere, and this performance conveys all of the edge-of-seat excitement of a first performance. Sure, tempos sometimes are fast to the point of discomfort, yet under Toscanini's watch the music-making is so impassioned, so disciplined, so thoroughly integrated in terms of vocalism, dramatic impact, and orchestral character, and so faithful regarding the composer's intentions that you can't help but respect the outcome.
Numerous passages catch my ear anew: the unwritten yet painstakingly-judged rubato in the middle section of Musetta's waltz, framing Anne McKnight's small but pretty voice; the textural clarity of Act 2's most complex goings on; the hushed, hauntingly sustained character the conductor evokes at the top of Act 3; Nicola Moscona's tender parlando phrasing in his Act 4 aria "Vecchia zimarra"; Francesco Valentino's warm, playful Marcello; and the full-voiced, red-blooded interaction between Jan Peerce and Licia Albanese, the opera's protagonists. And who can't help but smile when Toscanini vocalizes along with them during "O soave fanciulla"? Full libretto and translations plus informative notes by Toscanini biographer Harvey Sachs round out a release that every Bohème lover should know.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com