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Toscanini Broadcast Legacy Series
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835)
Norma ‘Introduction and Druid’s Chorus’
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Te Deum

Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)

Mefistofele ‘Prologue’
NBC Symphony Orchestra. Boys Chorus and Mixed Chorus/Arturo Toscanini
Live broadcast performance. December 2nd 1945
Budget Price

It was not unusual for Toscanini to include vocal or operatic items in his broadcast programs, but it was rare for them to be wholly vocal and without any particular cohesive theme. He had a distinguished background in the opera house. He conducted the premières of both Pagliacci and La Boheme. His work in the theatre concluded at Salzburg in 1937 and he only gave concert performances for NBC (all those performances were recorded and have been issued commercially) in New York. This disc provides a rare opportunity to hear him in the likes of Bellini. The accompanying booklet suggests that Toscanini’s performance of the Norma ‘Prologue’ is utterly different from other performances ‘by his complete avoidance of the delicate and lyrical style most conductors routinely apply to Bellini’. In comparing Bonynge (Decca with Sutherland) and Cillario (RCA with Caballé) that is not so in respect of tempi or dynamic. Bonynge reaches Oroveso’s entry in 2 minutes 40 seconds, concluding in 7.49 as against Toscanini’s 3.00. and 9.18. Maybe, with his last theatre experience of the work being nearly fifty years before, he was luxuriating in the long Bellinian cantilena (tr. 2). Anyway, the forward momentum is sufficient for dramatic cohesion and the male chorus is vibrant and well articulated. There is no distortion in the orchestral climaxes although the overall sound is set at a relatively low level and is rather ‘boxy’. The Greek bass, Nicola Moscana as Oroveso is firm if lacking the sap and weight of tone to ideally convey the gravity and implacability of the part.

The ‘Te Deum’ is the longest of Verdi’s ‘Quattro pezzi sacri’. Composed between 1889 and 1897 they form part of the great man’s last compositions. The work was premiered in Paris in April 1898 and received its Italian première, under Toscanini’s baton, in Turin, the following May. The conductor, characteristically in Verdi, is more thrusting in tempi than in the Bellini, with a very wide dynamic on choral climaxes as in the ‘Sanctus’ (tr 4; the parts are not separately tracked) and there are one or two places where the sound of the chorus recedes and loses vibrancy. Perhaps the transcription sources were not wholly ideal. I don’t believe there is sufficient distinctive quality in this performance to give it preference over the better recorded 1954 version that has been issued by RCA.

Toscanini had long championed Boito’s Mefistofele having conducted productions in Italy and South America. His tempi here are faster, distinctly so in Mefistofeles’ aria ‘Ave Signor’ (tr. 8), than de Fabritiis on Decca’s recording of the complete opera, but more relaxed in the concluding ‘Salve Regina’ (tr. 9). Whilst being steady toned, and with exemplary diction, as in the Bellini, Moscana manages more tonal colour here. In the thrilling concluding finale the chorus is a little overloaded and loses some definition. As with Verdi’s Te Deum a later, and better recorded, performance (1954), has been issued by RCA.

This is an unusual programme of unrelated items in fair sound. Even those who have the later recordings of the Verdi and Boito will be tempted to hear the great conductor in Bellini and should not, particularly at the modest price, hesitate.

Robert J Farr


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