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Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Arturo TOSCANINI Broadcast Legacy
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835) Norma: Introduction and Druidís Chorus [9í19"]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901) Te Deum [15í16"]
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918) Mefistofele: Prologue; Preludio [5í27"]; Ave, Signor degli angeli a dei santi! [3í25"]; Ave, Signor! [3í40"]; Tíè noto Faust [2í39"]; Siam nimbi volanti dai limbi [1í59"]; Salve Regina! [6í43"]
Nicola Moscona (bass)
Boys Chorus. Mixed Chorus
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Rec. Studio 8H, Radio City, New York, 2 December 1945. AAD
GUILD HISTORICAL GHCD 2263 [50í32"]

 

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 one.

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 not surprised.

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.

John Quinn

see also review by Robert Hugill



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