Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

TOSCANINI CONDUCTS BEETHOVEN. Symphony No 7; Septet, Op 20; Overture Egmont. NBC   Symphony Orchestra, Arturo Toscanini.   Radio broadcast 18 November 1939. [AAD] [78' 51"] Naxos 8.110814.

Save around 22% with
the retailers listed alongside



This disc is for connoisseurs of Toscanini. There are better performances and recordings of these pieces which show their vintage. Nonetheless they are workmanlike performances and have much to commend them.

Beethoven often became cross at people who made arrangements of his chamber works. The glorious Septet, Op 20 appeared in many guises in his lifetime and while was is due to its deserved popularity it fares best as Beethoven wrote it. Toscanini's arrangement is fundamentally for a larger number of strings and, as a result, the intimacy is gone.

But what a splendid piece it is. The tempo di minuetto is the composer's own reworking of the minuet from the Piano Sonata, Op 49 No 2. The scherzo is sheer joy but the intimate sparkle is not here.

The Egmont Overture is almost a miniature symphony and was often the subject of ridicule by Britten. But it is a good piece. The age of the recording has lost its freshness and exposed notes are very dry.

And so to the incredible Symphony No 7, probably Beethoven's finest. The opening poco sostenuto is a shade too slow but the first oboe has a beautiful tone. The mystery and expectation is effectively realised but the cello and double basses are too heavy bars 15ff. The oboe theme in bar 23 seems more romantic than classical and the recording cannot convey the brass punctuation at bar 34 ff. The transition from four time to 6/8 for the vivace is well caught but the tempo is a shade too slow and, unusually for Toscanini, his sense of rhythm is lost. Everyone loves the braying horns at 89 but the age of the sound does not convey this enough. The big repeat is omitted and why is it that some conductors interpret crescendo as an accelerando as well? This symphony often suffers from this unauthorised trait. In addition, Toscanini slows the tempo in the vivace at bar 309 to linger over the woodwind solos and then has to speed up to regain the correct tempo.

The allegretto starts with some poor wind intonation and the tempo isn't quite right but the counterpoint is brought out very well. The clarinet and horn duet at 117ff is quite ravishing and the fugal string passage is also well realised and the woodwind chords at 238ff are ravishing. The final four bars are exaggerated and stand out like a sore thumb but most conductors err here.

The scherzo is curious because the assai meno presto sections are so hurried. Some of the timpani passages needed more attack (bar 91ff, for example).

The finale begins a little sluggishly and we have to wait to about bar 330 before we have allegro con brio. In common with many conductors only the last 150 bars are played as Beethoven intended. There are no tempo variations in this movement so why is the 100 mph only reserved for the end? If Beethoven wants his 467 bars all at the same quick speed then that is what we expect.

As before, I cannot 'award stars' for performances and recordings for obvious reasons.


David Wright


David Wright

Reviews from previous months

Reviews carry sales links but you can also purchase from:

Return to Index