> Beethoven 5, Mrndelssohn, Dukas, Toscanini 8110844 [JW]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) Symphony No 5
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream op 61; Scherzo and Nocturne
Paul DUKAS (1865-1935)
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York
Arturo Toscanini
Recorded 1926-31
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.110844 [66.44]


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As promised by Naxos this fifth and final volume in their complete Toscanini/New York Philharmonic Symphony brings us the 1931 Beethoven fifth. The producer and restoration engineer Mark Obert-Thorn notes that there were technical problems in the recording, citing sonic compressed dubbing and obtrusive noise (there are some resoundingly loud coughs it’s true) though I was always under the impression that this live performance from Carnegie Hall was recorded on optical film and copies dubbed from it. Nevertheless as I noted in my review of the 1933 Fifth in this series – Naxos 8.110840 - this earlier traversal is marginally the superior performance. To the latter’s power and directness can be added the earlier performances lyrical persuasiveness and also its pliant and sensitive phrasing.

The two other performances on this disc receive 'Completists-only' saturation coverage. At this price it’s no bad thing to have two takes – virtually identical - of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice though surely even Toscaninians may squint at the thought of three versions of the scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, especially as the conductor is in unconvincing form in the earliest of them. This dates from 1926 and was recorded for Brunswick - a little lumpy and lethargic. By 1929 Toscanini was recording rather more confidently – though still unwillingly - for Victor and the two takes of the scherzo from that session (all three feature flautist John Amans) are again almost identical. Both here and in the Dukas we can feel the almost frightening brilliance of Toscanini’s waspish speeds and fluent articulation – I really don’t much care for the show-off Dukas performances but others will admire the undoubted orchestral virtuosity and it’s certainly right that Naxos include all the takes – all these takes were issued by the way – in this comprehensive and excellently transferred series.

Jonathan Woolf


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