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Arturo Toscanini – Boito Memorial
Arrigo BOITO (1842-1918)
Mefistofele - Prologue and Act III

Cesare Siepi (bass) - Mefistofele
Giacinto Prandelli (tenor) – Faust
Herva Nelli (soprano) - Margherita
Nerone - Act III and Act IV Scene 2
Cesare Siepi (bass) – Simon Mago
Herva Nelli (soprano) – Asteria
Frank Guarrera (baritone) – Fanuél
Giulietta Simionato (mezzo soprano) – Rubria
Giuseppe Nessi (tenor) – Gobrias
Ebe Ticozzi (mezzo soprano) - Perside
La Scala Chorus and Orchestra
10 June 1948
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Traviata - Prelude and Acts I and III
La Scala Orchestra
7-8 August 1951
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C op.21
La Scala Orchestra
24 June 1946
Arturo Toscanini conductor on all items
GUILD GHCD 2307/8 [67.12 + 71.31]


This is new ground for the Guild Toscanini edition. All have previously concentrated on the NBC recordings but this one goes further afield; literally so, to La Scala, Milan, for the entire programme. This divides neatly if unevenly into a triptych. The Boito was a memorial to the composer who had died thirty years before. It was a fully staged evening of operatic scenes, all presided over by Toscanini who had first met the composer, it seems, in 1895. Boito recognised the young Toscanini’s operatic gifts and assiduously encouraged him. For his part Toscanini remained affectionate, admiring and loyal to Boito. He kept vigil by the composer’s coffin the night before Boito’s funeral. The second component is the limited release Verdi – the Preludes to Acts I and III of La Traviata, made with the La Scala Orchestra a few years later in 1951. Toscanini rejected them for publication but there was a very limited circulation in Brazil as a promotional benefit disc. The final part of the triptych consists of the 1946 Beethoven First Symphony. This is the earliest item here and only in so-so sound.

The main point of interest however centres on Boito. Toscanini had given the world premiere of Nerone in 1924 and his post-War visit is charged with a very real sense of identification. It’s a shame therefore that we only have staged Acts, and not the complete work, as is the case with Mefistofele where what is extant is the Prologue and Act III. Perhaps of rather more pressing concern is the sound quality which is certainly deficient. There are the occasional whistling noises and the sound picture is very compressed. There are some acetate changes – nothing at all ruinous but audible and there is some scuffing on the surviving discs, though the main concern centres on the recession of sound.

Toscanini sounds entirely in his element dramatically and theatrically despite these limitations. The incision of the orchestral introduction to Mefistofele is palpable. He is fortunate in having Siepi whose range is notable in Ave Signore, perdona se il mio gorgo and who sings throughout with great lyric generosity and considerable power of characterisation and, not least, plausibly youthful voice. Herva Nelli gets a well merited and admiring write-up in the notes; she demonstrates gravity and considerable range of tone colour, despite the relatively primitive recording set up, especially in Act III’s L’altra notte. She’s right on the note in the passage beginning Sorge il di and possesses great clarity as well, her tenorial colleague Giacinto Prandelli having a free delivery.

Nerone has one or two off-mike moments but we can appreciate Nessi’s rather hectoring tenor, the sheer nobility of Guarrera’s baritone (sample Act III’s Vivete in pace) and Giulietta Simionato’s surprisingly moving Rubria. The principals are excellent here once again though obviously this is really only a very partial realisation of a part of the opera. Enough remains to intrigue however.

The Verdi extracts are played with diaphanous gentleness and finally the Beethoven has some aural blips, a number of which seem to have been ironed out by the restoration. The performance doesn’t vary too far from expected post-War Toscanini norms; the 1937 BBC recording was warmer.

As usual with this company documentation is thorough and attractive. The programme is a specialist one but will certainly appeal to those taken by the vibrant Toscanini-Boito connection.

Jonathan Woolf

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