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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Fidelio - Opera in two acts (1804-05, rev. 1814)
Rose Bampton (soprano) - Leonore
Jan Peerce (tenor) - Florestan
Herbert Janssen (baritone) - Pizarro
Sidor Belarsky (bass) - Rocco
Eleanor Steber (soprano) - Marzelline
Joseph Laderoute (tenor) - Jaquino
Nicola Moscona (bass) - Don Fernando
Chorus/NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
rec. 10, 17 December 1944
Leonore No.2 Op.72 [13:18]
rec. 25 September 1945
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Interview; Rose Bampton with Ben Grauer [5:17]
IMMORTAL PERFROMANCES IP CD 1007-2 [77:26 + 78:59]
Experience Classicsonline



This is the famous NBC broadcast of December 1944. It was marshalled by Toscanini, and his way with it was fluent, fleet, occasionally breathless and demanding. Rhythms are pointed with tremendous vitality, the music swept along on a vortex of passionate commitment and narrative tension. It’s a somewhat single-minded but ultimately brilliantly conceived and, more to the point, sustained approach to the score. It leaves one in no doubt as to the underlying vehemence and seriousness of the conductor’s vision.

The cast is admittedly somewhat uneven. Rose Bampton is the Leonore, and hers is an impersonation that is strongest in matters of vocal clarity and rather less so when it comes, ultimately to characterization and even, on occasion, pitch. Her Abscheulicher! however raises an interesting point. In the LP and subsequent issues of this performance substitution took place of this aria because Bampton’s voice gave way near the climactic point. So a later Carnegie Hall performance was substituted and that’s what has been heard since. For this IP release we go back to the original source and a patch ensures continuity of performance. The patch is from the later performance, it’s true, but we can now hear a briefly spliced original performance in this restoration. I time the splice at 6.53 into track 17.

Jan Peerce is Florestan and his stalwart singing, a little short of the ideal it’s true, is nevertheless a noble example of his artistry. Herbert Janssen’s Pizarro is rather more complete an interpretation in this respect although the voice itself is a shade light for the role, for the ultimate in communicative depth and roundness of tone. Still, his linguistic assurance is obviously an asset - not one shared by the whole cast it must be noted. The Marzelline of Eleanor Steber is also attractive - youthful, precise, and highly musical. That up-and-down singer Nicola Moscona takes on Don Ferrando and his brief contribution is somewhat uneven, though preferable to the Rocco of Sidor Belarsky, who is rather disappointing. The chorus too is a bit rough and ready.

Now we have to meet head-on the question of the dialogue. There was none at this performance but it has been now imported from a variety of (unnamed) sources. None of the actors was apparently named on the discs from which they have been parachuted into this set. A phalanx of critical voices has been raised against the original NBC decision to perform only the music but this is the first time that a reissue company has done something about it. IP and its previous operation made something of a fetish of rectifying ancient ills, on one famous occasion excising one singer’s performance and replacing it with a preferable performance by another artist altogether. Obviously these spoken interpolations have had to be re-equalized and the acoustic has needed to simulate that of Studio 8H. This is all to ensure dramatic continuity. Only you, the potential purchaser, can say, notwithstanding the objections of critics of the ‘music-only’ version, whether this is an acceptable policy, or one that is acceptable to your own tastes. I’m, as ever, in two minds: yes it does ensure narrative continuity but no, it isn’t what listeners heard on the broadcast on that day of this performance.

The two discs are concluded by a sinewy and powerful September 1945 performance of Leonore No.2. There is also a five minute segment from an interview between Ben Gauer, whose spoken broadcast commentaries have been preserved, and Rose Bampton. She touches briefly on the performance of Fidelio and the bulk of the talk is indeed taken up with her association with ‘Maestro’.

So this famed old broadcast emerges for a new airing, rather differently from what one may have anticipated. Notes and documentation as ever are comprehensive and good.

Jonathan Woolf

Message received:

Dear Editors,

I would like to add some thoughts to Jonathan Woolf's review of our 1944 Toscanini broadcast of Fidelio, in particular to his reference that, in terms of the dialogue, this album "isn't what listeners heard on the broadcast on that day of this performance." In his gentlemanly way, he indicates in his contemporaneous review of our Meistersinger 1939 that he tends to disapprove of these sorts of insertions and corrections, though he does respect my "belief in the 'higher fidelity' of a performance".

What this 'higher fidelity' refers to is likely unclear to readers, and this instance involving Fidelio might be a good one to touch on the subject. My insertions are never arbitrary, neither are they done without steeping myself in the performance in order to recognize the most authentic facets of recreation that are reasonably available. As I wrote in the Recording Notes, I auditioned 14 sets of Fidelio, nearly all of which used actors for the dialogue, not the singers themselves, and in all such cases the actor's voices in no way resembled the singers.

In this set, readers will actually hear more of what was broadcast than any other set released. This includes the broadcast commentary and ovations, and the original Abscheulicher (with the offending note replaced), plus a sonically superior Leonore No. 3 which was broadcast. And, they will hear the dialogue (recreated with reasonably close similitudes to the singers) which Toscanini was required to omit to fit the available broadcast times. This made him miserable according to Richard Gardener, his sound engineer. In short, more is authentically offered as it was heard on the original broadcast than any previous release, with the addition of a heightened dramatic veracity.

To quote one of the "phalanx" of critics who objected to the omission of dialogue in the concert broadcast:

". . . the musical numbers follow, one after the other, with scarcely a breathing space between them. Without the respite granted by the dialogue in a stage production, it is my experience that the emotional intensity of the music is on too consistently high a plane . . . to remove the listener's only chances to recover from one high spot before tackling the next does not conduce to relaxed and easy listening."
"As I listen to this recording more frequently, I begin to wonder more and more whether it would not have been a good idea to have slotted in the dialogue after the dialogue-less broadcast performance of the music and so have given the whole thing a more authentically theatrical atmosphere."
Spike Hughes
(The Toscanini Legacy)

This was precisely my endeavor. I recognize there are some who take a dim view of such recreations, but, if done with care and respect, I feel strongly these "ancient ills" as Mr. Woolf calls them, can be rectified to much overall benefit. These recreations can, in fact, be understood and accepted if the actual context, as in the instance he cites, is provided, something I did in the lengthy booklet for this particular broadcast.

Richard Caniell
Sound Engineer

 
 


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