Apparently, so the notes tells us, once Cantelli had finished
conducting the NBC in this concert in December 1952 he went
back to Toscanini’s residence at Riverdale and proceeded to
inform the older man just how good his own performance had been.
The ensuing meal was taken ‘in silence’. It’s true that Keith
Bennett’s notes refer to the esteemed conductor as ‘the Maestro’.
I thought this was something confined to hagiographic Americans,
but it appears not. The anecdote is telling nonetheless, even
if it has little or no bearing on the actual performance, or
one’s appreciation of it.
Despite Cantelli’s conceit, it is actually a very fine reading
indeed; all the more surprising given that it was only Cantelli’s
third public performance of the work. The other two had been
given with the Orchestra della Scala a few months before. We
know of two surviving Cantelli performances of this symphony,
other than this NBC concert: firstly the studio Philharmonia
in 1953 [Testament SBT1012] and the live Boston Symphony, which
has also been issued by Pristine Audio [PASC083]. In truth all
three are excellent and attest to the young conductor’s assurance
in this repertoire. With the NBC Cantelli manages to coax, or
to extract, a rather warmer string patina than the habitual
Toscanini sound, which was leaner and more focused. His sense
of articulation is first class, the incendiary and powerful
nature of the music making not as apocalyptic an orientation
as Toscanini’s antipode, Furtwängler, but marshalled differently.
It’s a reading at least on a par with the other two cited, and
possibly, because of the live frisson, just that bit more powerful
than the studio Philharmonia.
Coupled with it is the big-boned, big band Vivaldi Concerto
Grosso, with two eminent violinists to the fore, Daniel Guilet
and Remo Bolognini. There’s a harpsichord in there, and the
two fiddle players are characteristically elegant and lissom,
lightening their textures when required. The surrounding carapace
is certainly powerful, and the show-off final orchestral chord
unnecessary, though it does incite excited applause – which
may have been the point.
If you have either of the Brahms performances, do you really
need this one? That’s the question for Cantellians. I would
however affirm the superiority of this NBC traversal, and it’s
been finely restored into the bargain.