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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No 5
Symphony No 7

Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
Arturo Toscanini conductor
Recorded Carnegie Hall New York April 1933 (No 5) and April 1936 (No 7)
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110840 [76.46]


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Both the symphonies were, of course, staples of Toscaniniís repertoire. He had recorded the fourth movement of No. 5 during his first recording sessions, in 1920, on tour with the La Scala Orchestra. However it wasnít until RCA Victor sought ways around his frustration with the technical limitations of sound reproduction that Toscaniniís recording career began in earnest.

This 1933 recording of the Fifth Symphony was the second attempt to capture his interpretation Ė the 1931 optical film recording was never approved for release at the time; Naxos will be bringing out their transfer of that in the fifth volume of their laudable series of reissues devoted to all the Philharmonic- Symphony recordings. Similarly the Seventh had already been captured with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, available with other superb Queenís Hall performances on BBCL40162 when, the following year, 1936, Victor employed a two-turntable system to record the symphony, to Toscaniniís satisfaction.

The vagaries and complexities of the several attempts to record Toscaniniís Beethoven, whilst never as labyrinthine as those of his supposed antipode, Furtwängler, (provenance, dating, questions of attribution) nevertheless presents the listener with complicated choices. Toscaniniís 1930s readings are lyrically superior to the later NBC discs; they are freer in tempo and richer in phrasing. Orchestral sonorities are broader and deeper. That said the 1931 recording of the Fifth is preferable to this 1933 traversal, powerful and direct though the latter undoubtedly is. The Seventh has tremendous reserves of expressive power and the rhythmic attack is of galvanizing intensity to a degree remarkable even for Toscanini. The orchestra was an instrument capable of optimum flexibility and virtuosity. It is a remarkable document.

Naxos, in common with their policy to release all the Toscanini/Philharmonic-Symphony discs, includes two takes of the first movement of the Seventh Symphony. Toscanini watchers can note the difference of 23 secondsí duration between them and draw appropriate conclusions. The sound is generally fine on these discs, the restoration is by Mark Obert-Thorn, and notes cover the discographical matters with comprehensive zeal.


Jonathan Woolf


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