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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Toscanini Broadcast Legacy: The Complete Concert 3 November 1946
Magic Flute Overture, K620:1 (1791) [6.46]
Divertimento in Bb for 2 Horns and String Quartet, K287 (1777) [30.10]
Symphony #35 in D, ‘Haffner’ K (1782) [16.52]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Notes in English.
Special feature: Rehearsals for the Magic Flute Overture and Symphony 35 (88.22)
exclusive recordings from the Immortal Performance Recorded Music Society
Guild GHCD 2232/33 2CD [147.08] [AAD]

Toscanini was and is a controversial conductor, a controversial personality, and this disk will feed that image.

The Mozart Divertimento is not often played; evidently Toscanini’s motivation for performing it (and later recording it) was that Koussevitsky had performed it recently and omitted the violin cadenza at the close of the slow movement (during which movement the horns are silent). Toscanini insisted in performing the work with cadenza to show up Koussevitsky. Even the radio commentator was surprised at the decision to use the entire string sections of the NBCSO to perform a work originally written for string quartet, and the result justifies such scepticism. As in other cases of Toscanini ‘orchestrating’ string quartet music, the sound is scrappy, heavy, and unmusical. The violin cadenza sounds remarkably like the one in Grofé’s Grand Canyon Suite, and it is remotely possible that it actually was Ferde Grofé himself playing first violin in the NBC Symphony Orchestra at that time, although I find no record to confirm this.

In Mozart’s time K287 was occasionally performed as a violin concerto (with Mozart himself as the soloist), hence its alternative Köchel listing as # 271h. In its variations use is made of folksong tunes commonly associated with vulgar words, perhaps as a sort of private joke with the countess for whom it was originally written.

As with another Toscanini recording in this series, the actual broadcast performance of the Mozart ‘Haffner’ Symphony is quite good, but those snippets of the work from the rehearsal section are much better. Apparently Toscanini could fire up the musicians with insults and scolding and appeals to their sexual nature, but by the time of performance, some of the fire would inevitably have died down — a good argument in favour of studio recordings. The performance of the Magic Flute Overture is unremarkable, and features rapid tempi, strident recorded sound, and scrappy string playing.

Paul Shoemaker



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