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Arturo Toscanini – In Memoriam
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No.8 in F major Op.93 (1814) [23:49]
Richard WAGNER (1813-83)
Tannhäuser – Overture and Bacchanale (1845) [24:27]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La forza del destino – overture (1862) [7:22]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Manfred Op 115 – overture (1852) [11:57]
Gioacchino ROSSINI (1792-1868)
Guillaume Tell – passo a sei [5:41]
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)
Symphony No. 9 Op. 95 From the New World (1893) [36:14]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
rec. New York, 8 November 1952 (Beethoven, Wagner, Verdi) and 31 January 1953 (Schumann, Rossini, Dvořák)
TAHRA TAH624-25 [56:17 + 54:36]

Tahra has issued two In Memoriam editions recently, both slim-line two disc sets. One is devoted to Abendroth (see review) and the other to Toscanini. The latter is divided into two pairs; concerts given with the NBC in November 1952 and January 1953. Tahra’s programming ensures that we hear a symphony and two orchestral works from each concert. All the performances have of course appeared over the years but their conjoining here is no less welcome.
The earlier concert has its focus the Eighth Symphony of Beethoven. This has survived in many performances over the years – of live ones two from 1939, one from 1943, one from 1944, and a final one from 1952. Commercially he left two inscriptions – 1939 and 1952.  Toscanini’s Eighth is always fascinating and especially in this 1952 reading. It’s big-boned, dramatic and cannot be ignored. Never was it less than a “Little” Eighth than here with the NBC’s powerful bass section propelling things in the outer movements or adopting a pomposo gait for the Allegretto – a real study in manners. The finale is buoyant and propulsive though not ideally tidy, if that matters to you.
The Tannhäuser Overture and Bacchanale was released commercially. Other performances date from ’43, ’48, ’52 and ’54. Maybe the most convincing are the 1948 telecast and the wartime performance - not that this one isn’t august and persuasive but there are touches of retardation and heaviness that forbids a full recommendation. The phrasing suffers from this unusual example of Toscanini’s seeming seepage of control. The Verdi overture is resolute and excellently executed. 
The second disc brings us the1953 Dvořák From the New World. He recorded it for RCA same year, though broadcast performances also exist form ’38, ’41 and ’50. Rather like his Schumann Toscanini went on something of a starvation diet with Dvořák. The Ninth was in fact his only commercial recording of a work by the Czech composer though of course off-air material includes the Cello Concerto, Scherzo Capriccioso and the Symphonic Variations – the last on video as well. One would have thought of all such works the Seventh Symphony would have been sympathetic to him. The broadcast Ninth in this set has some trenchant and blistering brass perorations, though Toscanini does relax for the lyric episodes. The performance is profoundly dramatic and intense, as one might predict, though I for one find it all rather hectoring, at least in the outer movements. The string separation in the slow movement is finely accomplished though rather let down by the pummelling central section. It’s a performance of dramatic contrasts and sinewy eruption.
He performed the Schumann Third Symphony often enough, the Second less often. His Manfred overture is of a piece with the Dvořák – driving, hard-bitten (if one’s unsympathetic) and no dallying or sectionalising. Brass turbulence and rhythmic precision ensure that all architectural priorities are achieved, though sometimes at the expense of warmth.  Finally there’s the Rossini - a sweetly phrased morceau to which Toscanini was susceptible and left behind numerous examples in the 1940s and 50s.
The notes entitled “Maestro of the Century” against his own will are by Angelo Scottini. And the restorations are first class. The set offers two major symphonic statements and plenty of important ancillary orchestral material – certainly enough to tempt the Toscanini collector who may not have them.
Jonathan Woolf


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