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