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ARTURO TOSCANINI conducts OPERA OVERTURES
GLUCK Orpheus ed Euridice - Dance of the Blessed Spirits.
VERDI
La Traviata Prelude to Act 1 and Prelude to Act 3.
ROSSINI Overture The Barber of Seville; Overture The Italian girl in Algiers (rec 1936) and Overture ‘Semiramide (rec 1936)
Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York
Recorded in 1929 and 1936
NAXOS 8.110842 [67.55]


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The idea behind this CD is to present eleven of the great conductor’s recordings often made on the same day and to demonstrate the subtle differences behind performances of the same work. Some of these performances were issued originally, some later, some never.

It is very much a CD for the Toscanini enthusiast, the 'completist', as you will hear three versions of the ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ and Rossini’s ‘Barber of Seville Overture’, two of Verdi’s La Traviata Prelude etc. Even so, it is a fascinating exercise to pay particular attention to these interpretations and to admire the sheer beauty of the results even after the dust of about 70 years.

Mark Obert-Thorn adds a very useful note on the recordings and I will quote him. He writes ….."it was standard policy to make three takes of a given side. One would be marked M [for master] and this became the released version. The other takes might be marked H30 or H [for hold 30 days or hold indefinitely, respectively] or D for destroy. Over the years these recordings remained in the catalogue, the metal masters of some original sides wore out and substitutes were made from whatever takes still remained…" He goes on to explain that these various recordings came out therefore at different times. "Side 1 of ‘The Barber of Seville’ Overture appeared in three different takes, although in this case all the sides had been recorded at the same time."

By 1936 the sessions employed two turntables, "and many of the sides needed no more than a single take to obtain a satisfactory result".

It is interesting to note that these later recordings seem to have a wider dynamic range with the forte playing coming across quite powerfully but the quieter passages are somewhat camouflaged by the tape hiss.

I thought that it was important to take note of what Obert-Thorn has to say as it he who has made these remarkable transfers. He has worked with other labels like Pearl and Romophone and describes himself as a 'moderate interventionist’. I like the fact that you get a recording without pops and squeaks but there is a little hiss and a real sense of an historic recording.

Toscanini enjoyed a long connection with opera. In 1898 he had been appointed artistic director of La Scala Milan. He knew Verdi and the sensitivity with which he approaches the ‘La Traviata’ Prelude to Act 1, is truly wonderful. One has to put aside the style of string playing prevalent in the '20s and '30s, the portamento and rubato, and enjoy it for what it is. It is anyway worth remembering that that is how Verdi heard it and expected it to be.

Amongst their many projects Naxos continue to develop their historic recordings and if nothing else they serve to remind us of the virtuosity of the orchestras of the early 20th century and of the greatness of conductors which increasingly fewer people were lucky enough to hear live.

Gary Higginson


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