We have here two Toscanini concerts given in 1936. The earlier
saw Serkin give his American debut in two concertos. Toscanini
then conducted Beethoven’s First Symphony and the Bach-Wood arrangement of the Toccata and Fugue in D minor. A week later the orchestra and conductor were in Studio 8H for a lightweight sort of concert, moonlighting as the ‘General Motors Symphony’.
The two concertos were issued by Guild (review
) and have been subjected to further restoration. It’s this concert - the one given in Carnegie Hall - that is the more problematic by far in respect of damage to the original discs. There is an interpolation of 1:49 in the Beethoven symphony, 2:48 in the Fourth Concerto and about 3:30 in the Mozart. The sources of the interpolations are readily identified in the booklet notes. The lacquers were recorded privately off-air and, as admitted, listening can be a trial. Normally constant but predictable defects can relatively easily be accommodated I find - but unpredictable thumps, scrunches, swishes and clatter is very much more unnerving. One should note that these are for specialist listening only; it’s not a question of dim sonics, it’s a question of constant unpredictable damage to the grooves. I remember the previous Guild transfer as having less in the way of this kind of damage but having a much more recessive sound. The actual orchestral/solo sound here is not so bad.
As I noted in my last review of this Beethoven performance it’s much to be preferred to the unaccountably bad 1944 performance the two men left behind. Back on his debut Serkin was in fine form. There’s much to admire in the pliancy and warmth of string moulding, and Serkin’s noble pianism in the slow movement, as well as the finale’s vitality. The Mozart concerto is one of only three that Toscanini performed throughout his life. The sound here is again poor with one particularly bad break up early on. Crunch increases throughout the slow movement, which is a pity, as the performance is buoyant and affectionate. The Beethoven Symphony suffers crackling and blasting; there’s a very bad patch toward the end of the Second movement. The performance itself is lithe, and superbly contoured. Fortunately the Bach-Wood (ex ‘Klenovsky’) is in better sound and receives a rip-roaring reading.
The ‘General Motors Symphony’ concert was a light affair and recorded in much, much better sound. No real concerns here. Toscanini can be heard singing along, gutturally, in the Weber and he encourages a good contribution from soprano Dusolina Giannini in the brief Verdi extract. Mishel Piastro must be the solo violinist in the Danse macabre. The Debussy is a bit brisk and businesslike for my tastes - Beecham was much better at it, let alone the French contingent.
I’m glad that these concerts have been presented thus, in their entirety. There is not the duplication of the 1944 Serkin-Toscanini performance, and a degree of integrity is thus maintained. One concert is lightweight, the other heard in pretty poor sound, so it’s a clear case of a niche market purchase.