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Arturo Toscanini Conducts Beethoven
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op.55, "Eroica" (1: Allegro con brio: [13.44]; Marcia funebre; Adagio assai: [16.28]; Scherzo; Allegro vivace: [5.22]; Finale; Allegro molto: [10.45])
Leonore 3 Overture [12.50]
Coriolan Overture [7.34]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini,
rec. NBC 3 Dec. 1938 (Eroica); 6 March 1948 (Leonore) 6 Dec. 1953 (Coriolan)
Restorations: Graham Newton (2004). "Eroica" previously released on CD-264 (1987); "Coriolan" previously released on CD-3007 (1988); "Leonore III" previously unissued. AAD.
UPC Number: 0-17685-11342-0; Mid Price: £9.95
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1134(1) [66:52]


It could be argued that Arturo Toscanini was one of the first ‘authenticists’ eschewing the grotesque distortions and mannered excesses of bastardised interpretation. Yet Toscanini’s ‘authenticist’ approach to Beethoven is not small-scale and effete as we often hear with our effeminate ‘period’ conductors today. What makes Toscanini so unique and compelling is his strict adherence to the score whilst igniting the music with drama and tension. This is evident in his tough, direct and intense 1938 NBCSO performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’. Toscanini conducted the ‘Eroica’ more often than any other symphony and each performance was a unique interpretation as if he were always conducting the score for the first time. This lithe, sinuous 1938 performance is slightly broader than his tauter and more pronounced 1939 account which completely differs again from his weightier and more spacious 1949 recording issued on RCA Red Seal (BMG: 74321 55835 2). Toscanini was famed for his constantly evolving interpretation of the Eroica, none of which could be described as ‘definitive’ but all of which demand to be heard.

This 1938 mesmerising performance gripped me from beginning to end so relentless was its forward thrusting drive. The playing of the NBCSO is crisp and alert with some exquisite woodwind solos in the Funeral March and firm punctuated timpani throughout. All four movements are perfectly integrated making the music sound like one colossal and unified movement. It is impossible to have a favourite Toscanini ‘Eroica’ as each interpretation is unique. The late cultural critic Edward Said commented on the unique and extraordinary musical experience of listening to Toscanini’s Eroica and was fascinated by the Maestro’s sheer will to control music and musicians: "What Toscanini seems to me to be doing ... is trying to force into prominence, or perhaps enforce, the utterly contrary quality of the performance occasion, its total discontinuity with the ordinary, regular or normative processes of everyday life.”

Toscanini stated that he always had great difficulty in conducting the Coriolan Overture yet here the Maestro has a masterly control over metre, dynamics and balance in his last 1953 performance of the score. This intense and dramatic example is by far the finest of his seven accounts of the overture with the NBCSO - as well as being nearly a minute longer. The 1948 NBCSO Leonore No. 3 is issued here for the first time and although a welcome edition to the Toscanini discography the sound comes across as cloudy and rather dry with the timpani and brass coming across as too muffled. That said, it is a direct, noble and broad interpretation and a superior account to his 1945 RCA recording.

Whilst Music & Arts dub this re-issue a “State of the art 2004 restoration” their first issue of the 1938 Eroica released in 1987 did not have the crackling distortions in the climaxes even if the 2004 restoration sounds cleaner and better defined than the original issue. This is a highly recommendable disc and truly puts the word ‘authentic’ back into limp-wristed ‘authenticity’.

Alex Russell

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