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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Otello - opera in four acts (plus Act III rehearsals)
Otello, Ramon Vinay (tenor); Iago, Giuseppe Valdengo (bar); Desdemona, Herva Nelli (sop); Emilia, Nan Merriman (mezzo); Casio, Virginio Assandri (ten); Roderigo, Leslie Chabay (ten); Montano, Arthur Newman (bass); Lodovico, Nicola Moscona, (bass)
NBC Symphony Orchestra. Mixed Chorus/Arturo Toscanini
Live broadcast from Studio 8-H Radio City, New York. With audience. Acts I and II on 6th December 1947. Acts III and IV on 13th December. Rehearsals of Act III on 11th and 12th December
GUILD HISTORICAL Toscanini Broadcast Legacy Series GHCD 2275-77 [3CDs: 70.01+67.08+68.30]


Arturo Toscanini’s regular NBC broadcasts have been well documented. Guild’s ‘Toscanini Legacy’ reflects a carefully selected melange of circumspection and adventure. Very often the repertoire chosen has overlapped studio recordings. Richard Caniell has justified this duplication in terms of vitality of performance. However, LPs and later CDs from these broadcasts have long been available commercially from RCA, so what special reason brings their issue here? In a detailed explanation on pages 32-33 of the comprehensive booklet, Caniell sets out the explanation and justification. The crux of his argument is that neither the original RCA vinyls nor later CD issues faithfully represented the quality of sound possible from the masters. They reflect ‘considerable attenuation of the sonic spectrum …and ... the addition of some electronic echo!’ To overcome these perceived limitations Caniell and his team have gone back to what he calls ‘original sonics taken from the lacquers (‘linechecks’). These are said to ‘offer bright, clear, dry sound of considerable detail and stunning impact, superior, in our hearing, to the RCA/BMG Compact Disc set’. This is despite some deficiencies in the lacquers and a few instances of line leakage.

Listening to the performance with some care, I noted some odd moments of surface grit noise and also of overload distortion. However, overall there is a clarity, or lack of veiling, that many will welcome. The other added value to the issue is to be able to hear Toscanini’s orchestral rehearsal from Act III, complete with his singing to provide the vocal line, (CD 3 tr. 1). This took place on 11th December and is followed (tr. 2) by a portion of the ‘Dress Rehearsal’ from the following day. This disc concludes (Tr. 3) with a brief interview with Ramon Vinay.

Toscanini famously played in the string section of the memorable first night of Otello at La Scala in 1887. His interpretation is therefore viewed as definitive and this performance iconic. Phrases such as ‘white hot’ litter critical comment; certainly that describes the opening (CD 1 tr. 1) and Otello’s ‘Esultate!’ that follows (tr. 2). We can but guess if it really was like that on the opening and subsequent nights. On the other hand, and playing the iconoclast, is it the notoriously hard-driving conductor imposing his personality on Verdi’s incomparable work? I have never worshipped at the shrine of these singers and this chorus. I find Herva Nelli’s Desdemona thin-toned and lacking legato. The baritonal Vinay is vocally too similar to his Iago and the chorus lack Italianate ‘squilla’. I much prefer the red-blooded, but not over-cooked, Serafin, a consummate Verdian, also on RCA. Recorded in Rome in 1960, the Serafin version has the benefit of an Italian chorus, the unequalled Iago of Gobbi and the virile tenor tones of Vickers in the title role. However, each to his own preference, and I do hear why this performance appeals to many.

As always the Guild supporting documentation is first class with an excellent track-related synopsis in place of a full libretto. They also reproduce contemporary critical comment and there is a detailed musicological essay by William H Youngren. Those who know and love this performance above others will itch to hear if Caniell’s claims for sonic improvement are justified. I will simply note that he has a good record!

Robert J. Farr


Richard Caniell advises:

The attenuation of the sonic spectrum and the addition of electronic echo pertains to the LP edition not to the RCA-BMG CD release (see page 32). The RCA-BMG CD set does not have electronic echo, though its sonics are compressed compared to what we released.



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