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Jonathan Woolf
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CDs: Crotchet


Arturo Toscanini Conducts
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Serenade No.1 in D major Op.11 (1857-58) [41:59]
Serenade No.2 in A flat major Op.16 (1857-60) [32:33]
Academic Festival Overture in C minor Op.80 (1880) [10:30]
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat major Op.83 (1881) [42:55] ¹
Four Part Songs; Gesang aus Final; Wein’ an dem Felsen der brausenden Winde Op.17 No. 4; Der Gartner; Wohin ich ger’ Op.17 No.3; Lied von Shakespeare; Come away, come away, Death Op.17 No.2; Schubert arranged by Brahms; Jäger, ruhe von der Jagd D838 – sung in English [14:50] ²
Robert Casadesus (piano) ¹
New York Ladies’ Choir ²
New York Philharmonic Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
rec. New York 1935-36. ADD
GUILD GHCD 2337/38 [76:48 + 69:26]
Experience Classicsonline


The caveat to this remarkable two-disc set must be the recorded sound. It’s boxy and limited and given the off-air recording date of 1935-36 that’s only to be expected. Nevertheless persistence is called for because the performances are formidable and interpretatively cut from the finest cloth.

The most important things here are the two Serenades, which Toscanini programmed infrequently and never recorded commercially. Given the magnificence of the performances one can mark this as a decided loss. The performances were given a week apart at the end of March and the beginning of April 1935. The D major is lyrically buoyant and superbly eloquent. The lusty drones of the opening movement are balanced by the refined liquidity of the wind playing; the tempo is not over-pressed. And the sinewy directional command of the slow movement – a rapt Adagio non troppo – has commanding, graphic proportions. By the finale the winds are in tremendous form, the whole performance in fact attests to their warmth and incision.

The companion Serenade fares equally well. Its slow movement is the highlight, warmly moulded and nobly unfolded, albeit with some sectional imprecision – which hardly matter given the outstanding and communing depth of the playing. The warm joviality of the Rondo, with its complement of hunting horns, and sturdy rhythmic profile runs it a close second though. Toscanini was taped live in this with the NBC in 1942 but this earlier inscription is the warmer, more malleable and preferable, albeit in worse sound.

The second disc opens with a sonorous and yet yielding Academic Festival Overture and continues with the Second Piano Concerto. The commercial recording Toscanini made with Horowitz is a well enough known artefact but this Casadesus survival, though once out on LP, much less so. The uneasy partnership between the conductor and his son-in-law Horowitz is reflected in their recording, which I’ve always disliked. Casadesus’s performance is a different matter. He’s lithe, lean, light on the pedal, and drives into the drama at the heart of the first movement with enviable determination. The slow movement is warmly textured, poetically inflected by the French pianist and if not the last word in expressive penetration still finely nuanced. Altogether this is the better performance, and casts the irascible and uneven Horowitz recording in a different light. As a rather unexpected bonus we have some big-boned Part Songs sung by the New York Ladies’ Choir and recorded in January 1936.

One must reiterate the question as to the recorded sound but reinforce the superiority of the performances. The Serenades in particular are a joyful example of Toscanini’s mid thirties way with Brahms – in fact the set, well annotated and presented, is bursting with important things.

Jonathan Woolf




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