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Arturo Toscanini. Music for Freedom Concert
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)

Holberg Suite
Jean SIBELIUS (1865-1957)

Symphony No.4 in A minor Op.63
Includes rehearsal [30.50]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)

Les Eolides
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

La Valse
Concert for the Liberty of Italy

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No.5 in C minor Op.67 Ė first movement only
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)

Overture - William Tell
Garibaldiís War Hymn
Star Spangled Banner
Broadcast commentaries included
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Recorded; Concert for the Liberty of Italy, 9 September 1943; remainder 27 April 1940 with the Sibelius rehearsal recorded on 25 April
GUILD HISTORICAL GHCD 2298/99 [68.50 + 69.41]

 

Another feast for Toscanini admirers from Guild. Whether the programme will tempt those not addicted to the man Americans call Maestro is another matter altogether and I think those who are wavering will probably need to concentrate on Sibeliusís Fourth Symphony. This joins Toscaniniís Second as a statement of invincible, eviscerating drive Ė a very quick reading, intense, devoted to the long line, but one capable of considerable elasticity and unexpected lightening. In the first movement the orchestra is not entirely tidy and the recording, which is slightly muddy, doesnít really help, in this of all works. He doesnít press too hard in the second movement where one might have expected the indication Allegro molto vivace to have roused his sense of the athletic. But no, heís nowhere near Beechamís tempo and is on a par with such as Berglund, amongst the Moderns. There are glints of wit here as well as the darkening. I find the slow movement unconvincing though I daresay acolytes will welcome his impress here. Yes, the high winds are desolate, and those middle string voices are well brought out but at just over eight minutes this is a brisk and rather superficial view. The finale is steady. Coupled with the Symphony is a large rehearsal segment. We can hear Toscaniniís insistence on rhythmic exactitude, accents, phrasing and his care over the woodwind passages. Unusually he speaks far more in English than Iím used to hearing in NBC rehearsal sessions.

Elsewhere we have a clean-limbed, dry-eyed Holberg Suite (donít expected Scherchen or Beecham here Ė not that you would) and a lean and powerful Franck. The Ravel is in slightly muddied sound but Toscanini is gimlet eyed and full of insinuation and menacing drive. There is a Concert for the Liberty of Italy from September 1943, a hodgepodge of an affair that adds nothing to what we already know, many times over. Thereís the first movement (only) of Beethovenís Fifth with some uncertain horns, the William Tell overture, with a splendid clarinettist and cello principal (Frank Miller was it?) and a couple of dodgy woodwind ones. We end with Garibaldiís War Hymn and the Star Spangled Banner.

It might have been better sense to have issued this as a single disc and concentrated on the Sibelius and Grieg and added something else. The broadcast commentaries are included which gives the set historical resonance though obviously there will be many who wonít give a damn for such things. I happen to give a damn.

Jonathan Woolf


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