Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Concerto Grosso in A minor Op.3 No.8 [13:37]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No.1 in C minor Op.68 (1868) [42:20]
Introduction to Brahms by Ben Grauer [1:56]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Guido Cantelli
rec. 6 December 1952, live from Carnegie Hall

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.

Jonathan Woolf

I would affirm the superiority of this NBC Brahms 1 traversal, and it’s been finely restored into the bargain.