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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 - 1827)
Toscanini Broadcast Legacy: The Complete Concert 26 November 1944

Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 (1807) [6.34]
Quartet #13, Op. 130: cavatina (1826) [5.51]
Quartet #9, Op. 59 #3; introduction to 1st mvt.; 4th mvt complete (1806) [6.55]
Piano Concerto #4 in G, Op. 58 (1807) [31.22]
Rudolf Serkin, piano
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
From the concert of 23 February 1936:
Piano Concerto #4 in G, Op. 58 [32.36]
Rudolf Serkin, piano
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto #27 in Bb, K. 595 (1791) [28.05]
Rudolf Serkin, piano
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Special feature: Coriolan Overture rehearsal 23 November 1946 [17.50] AAD
Notes in English
GUILD GHCD 2228/9 [132.22]


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Those of us who belong to that subspecies of the human race homo musicalibus collector are a peculiar lot. In my case it must go back to the time I lost forever the only woman I have ever truly loved. She struck out at me, and at my shock and hurt, she laughed — and left me. I sought out and drenched with my tears my mother’s breast, and she with wisdom soothed me: "You’ll meet many nice girls in your life my son, especially next year when you start kindergarten ...." However as the bitter years passed I resolved that if I could never possess my true love, I could at least have six recordings of Vaughan Williams’ Seventh Symphony. In time this became a pact with — God? Or the Devil? Does it matter? As everyone knows, not to a record collector.

Anyway, it’s been almost a year since I noted, and remarked out loud, "I don’t seem to have a single really good recording of the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto..." Someone was listening, and, mysteriously, recordings began to come my way. And now has come to my attention this set with not just one, but TWO recordings of the Beethoven Fourth Piano Concerto in one box; and one of these is of the best performance of the work I’ve ever heard, the second time in three months I’ve had to ratchet up my standards.

Only a couple of little problems. Predictably, the later concert with the better sound is not the best musically, but the earlier concert with the better performance of the Beethoven is at times very difficult to listen to. So, what you’re supposed to do is listen to the old recording, gaps, dropouts and crackles and all, and superimpose its musical values over the greater sonic values of the later recording. If this makes sense to you, you are a true dyed-in-the-wool record collector.

The Coriolan rehearsal from 1946 contains a superb performance of the work, albeit in bits and pieces. The sound is much better, also — this is the Toscanini Beethoven of the great RCA LP recordings that excited me so much when I was getting to know this music during my college days. As to his rehearsal technique, he seems to just lead them through, singing here and there, screaming here and there. It’s after this when they’re working on details in string playing and ritardandi that the real yelling starts. Without a libretto, you don’t catch many of the words, but I thought I heard a few vergogna’s (shame!) and some long invocations to saints. But me, I thought they played it pretty well. What a shame the complete performance from 1944 is nowhere near this good, sounding hollow, rushed and uncommitted.

As to the other works on these disks, the less said the better. The Mozart concerto is very well played but most of the time barely audible through the hiss, crackle and audience noise, with large gaps and level fluctuations as well. As a document of how Toscanini and Serkin played the work together it’s adequate, but trying to enjoy the music is a struggle most of the time, although the clouds clear dramatically for the third movement cadenza and finale.

The two quartet movements have gained nothing and lost quite a bit by being pumped up to full orchestral size. The orchestra version of the cavatina from Op. 130 is played with heavy portamento, achieving the rare miracle of sounding at once both dragged out and rushed through; at odd times it resembles a sketch for Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll. Then we hear the Andante con moto introduction to the first movement of Op. 59 #3 followed immediately by the allegro molto fourth movement fugue which becomes a mad and unsuccessful scramble by the string sections to keep up with the conductor. Toscanini fans will want these, of course, but others, particularly Beethoven fans, probably will not.

If you collect outstanding Beethoven Fourth’s, or are a dedicated fan of Toscanini and/or Serkin, you’ll want these disks. If in addition you have your own audio restoration software, you may want to try your skill to do some cleaning up on these noisy old recordings. If the Mozart concerto particularly could be repaired and cleaned up significantly it could become a recommended version.

Paul Shoemaker



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