This is another in
Guildís valuable series of recordings
of Toscanini broadcast concerts. It
contains one outstanding performance,
one very good one and a disappointing
Letís get the disappointment
out of the way first. Ironically, when
I received the CD for review the piece
that I most wanted to hear was the Verdi
Te Deum. Sadly it gets off to
a very poor start. The opening quasi-plainchant
phrases for basses then tenors are marked
in my vocal score senza misura.
Thatís certainly not what we hear. The
notes are sung four-square, too loud
and with no sense of mystery. The four-square
rhythm was clearly Toscanini's intention
for he takes this passage in a similar
way in his 1954 live performance (issued
by BMG/RCA). There, however, he has
a much better choir at his disposal
in the shape of Robert Shawís eponymous
Chorale so they donít make the music
sound so wooden and they sing much more
quietly. If you want to hear how this
passage should sound then look
no further than Giuliniís great EMI
account with the Philharmonia.
The performance picks
up somewhat after this unsatisfactory
start but it never really moved me.
Verdi makes tough demands in terms of
dynamics and chromatic harmonies so
itís a fantastically difficult sing
for the choir, as I know from experience.
Frankly, the singers here are no match
for their counterparts on the 1954 recording.
In particular, thereís too much wavery
singing and thin tone in quieter passages.
Nor is attention to dynamics all it
might be. At the end the cruelly exposed
soprano soloist sings well but when
the full choir enters, singing "in
te speravi" (track 4, `14í39")
their tuning is horribly distorted though
Iím pretty certain thatís down to the
recorded sound itself. The audience
delivers the coup de grace by
erupting into applause as soon as the
last note has sounded. My firm advice
is to stick to Toscaniniís 1954 recording
if you want to hear him in this work.
Happily, the remainder
of this rather strangely assorted programme
is much better. The Bellini item is
projected very powerfully (indeed, the
degree of power may surprise some listeners,
as it did me.) However, Toscaniniís
approach is most effective, I think.
Nicola Moscona sings splendidly. Heís
sonorous and forthright and heís capably
supported by the chorus. The orchestra
contributes red-blooded playing.
In the booklet Richard
Caniell waxes lyrical about the Boito
performance, and rightly so. This is
a splendidly theatrical affair in which
the Prelude is powerfully and atmospherically
played by the NBC Symphony. The chorus
sounds much more at home and much more
convincing in this music and Moscona
is tremendous, giving a commanding performance,
laced with sardonic touches. In sum,
he is suitably diabolical. Towards the
end there is a prominent part for a
boys choir too and the boys here
sound, rather appropriately, like
angelic urchins. The layered textures
of the closing Salve Regina are
built by Toscanini to a fervent climax,
which, understandably, induces the audience
to go wild. I donít believe this is
great music but Toscanini makes you
think otherwise. Apparently he was very
happy after the performance and Iím
The recorded sound
is variable and calls for some tolerance,
especially in the Verdi. However, purchasers
of this series will know what to expect.
As is always the case with this series,
very full (and frank) details of the
source material are given. Guild havenít
provided texts or translations, which
is a pity. However, there are very informative
notes, which, in the case of the operatic
items, give a good feel for the action.
One small criticism is that the author
of the notes refers to the Boito in
terms of five "movements"
whereas Guild provides six separate
tracks. Itís a little confusing at first
but one soon mentally aligns the two.
Admirers of the Maestro
will certainly want to investigate this
issue. For the more general collector
the recommendation must be more qualified.
Iíd say you can do much better for the
Verdi but the Bellini and, particularly,
the Boito are well worth hearing.
see also review
by Robert Hugill