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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-91)
Die Zauberflöte – Overture (1791) [6’46]. Divertimento in B flat, K287 (1777) [30’10]. Symphony No. 35 in D, ‘Haffner’ (1782) [16’52].
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Broadcast performances from November 3rd, 1946; includes rehearsal sequences (November 2nd).
GUILD HISTORICAL TOSCANINI LEGACY GHCD2232/3 [2CDs: 147’08]


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A useful document here, with excellent annotations by William H. Youngren. As is now to be expected with this series, broadcast commentaries add to a sense of occasion. Zauberflöte Overture is given a most invigorating reading. The repeated chords are grandly stated, their Masonic status clear (the rest of the introduction is most lovingly sculpted); the allegro positively scampers along. It is the space between the two tempi that makes the return of the chords all the more arresting.

The performance of the K287 Divertimento is a real sign of the times. The solo violin part is played in unison by a reduced first violin section, which must surely have caused great alarm at the time amongst the orchestra members. This performance as a whole is a strange mix. There are some miracles of ensemble in the Adagio, but much else detracts. The opening two chords may be attention grabbing, but for the wrong reason: they are harsh and abrasive here. Toscanini drives the Allegro hard. More elegance, even a touch of the suave, would not have gone amiss.

The same problem attacks the Theme and Variations, which certainly need to relax. The first violins sound as if they are hanging on for dear life on occasion. Later, the Recitative that opens the finale is jumpy and undignified. This is for Toscanini die-hards only, I would suggest.

The Haffner’s first movement is remarkably robust. There is a distinct feeling that Toscanini and his orchestra are happier here, and certainly more confident. This is not to imply that this reading is problem-free, however. The Minuet’s Trio sounds like a second slow movement, with indulgent swells aping expression. Still, the finale is fresh and bubbles over with energy. The Maestro’s famous discipline is here, at last, put fully to the service of the music.

Rehearsal sequences give us a window into the machinations of the workings of this immortal relationship. They remain an important historical document, but of course the gestures, both of hand and eye, remain unseen so we are left with the famous attempts at articulating ideas in heavily Italian-accented English. It is hard going to work one’s way through 53 minutes of Haffner once the novelty of being part of the atmosphere has worn off. The vocal exchanges between Toscanini and his players can be very distanced and one has to strain to catch the Maestro’s drift.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Paul Shoemaker

 



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