Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Requiem (1874) [86:15]
All-Verdi complete concert; NBC Symphony Orchestra – 31 January 1943
La Forza del Destino – overture [6:55]
Nabucco – Act III Chorus of Slaves [5:10]: Westminster Choir
I Lombardi Act III Prelude [4:41]: I Lombardi Trio
Qui posa il fianco (Vivian della Chiesa (soprano): Jan Peerce (tenor), Nicola Moscona (bass)) [8:54]
La Traviata, Prelude to Act III [3;40]
Otello, Act III, Ballabili (Ballet Music) [6:15]
Hymn of the Nations (American premiere) [2:52]
Hymn Spettacolo sublime (Jan Peerce (tenor)) [12:30]
includes commentaries
Zinka Milanov (soprano); Charles Kullman (tenor); Bruna Castagna (contralto); Nicola Moscona (bass)
Chorus of the Schola Cantorum;
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
rec. 4 March 1938, live, Carnegie Hall, NYC (Requiem); 31 January 1943 (concert)

The history of Toscanini’s Verdi Requiem on disc is something of a study in frustration. The best sonics preserve the January 1951 broadcast, but here one finds that the conductor tends to rush tempi, sometimes uncomfortably so. His November 1940 broadcast is more sympathetic in this respect, though sometimes even here there is a slight tendency to push things. The La Scala performance of 1950, not heard by me, has also been issued, but the most convincing of all are the two 1938 broadcasts; the 27 May BBC and the 4 March NBC, the latter being the one presented by Immortal Performances in this two disc set. As with the BBC performance, now transferred by Paul Baily on Testament SBT21362, a considerable amount of hard work has been necessary with regard to the NBC lacquers to produce an artefact unafflicted by the distortion and telephone wire crosstalk that were present during its preservation. One authority, Mortimer Frank, discographic Boswell to Toscanini’s Dr Johnson, pronounced the lacquers ‘virtually incomprehensible’ when he listened to them. An Archipel release has largely preserved these deficiencies.

Restoration has clearly been extensive. The ‘line leakage’ proved especially difficult for a total of just over three minutes. Here Richard Caniell has spliced from the 1940 and the London performances. There was also the question of ‘turntable knocking’, an infuriating occurrence to those of us who have experienced it, and which Caniell nicely characterises as ‘loud honking’. Some has had to be left, but I can assure listeners that whilst it is necessarily audible, it is not at all devastating in its impact. In the main it has been well tamed. The main line interference occurs in Part I, and Part II is in general in somewhat better sound anyway. I did notice the cross-talk – but the only time it really bothered me was around 3:17 into the Oro supplex et acclinis – and then only briefly. My view is that there’s a limit to what restoration engineers can do to undo the ravages of time and imperfect recording circumstances. And whilst it would be wrong to pretend that examples of cross-talk and surface noise do not intrude, I think it’s fair to add that this restoration does what the Testament did with the BBC performance; it gives us a major work of reclamation, painstakingly executed, and intelligently resolved with regard to patching.

This would not matter quite so much were the performance not so transcendent. Both it, however, and the BBC are equally worthy of the highest merit. Certainly there is some muddiness in the choral sound, especially in Part I, and a hint of overload in the fortes (the Liber scriptus, for example) but though the surface noise can increase in sound – as it does during the Rex tremendae – the clarity and definition of the instrumental contributions remains distinct. So, too, the delicacy and refinement of the string moulding. In fact the NBC strings here sound warmer than one can recall them, and the winds and brass acquit themselves superbly. Of course the singers are a fundamental component of the success of the performance. Milanov and Moscona (actually in New York a late substitute for Pinza) were also present at the Queen’s Hall, London performance, where we also heard Thorborg and Rosvaenge, and they are joined by Kullman and Bruna Castagna. All four sing with concentrated focus, rhythmic surety and tonal excellence.

The companion performance is the all-Verdi concert of 31 January 1943, once again with the NBC. This consisted of operatic overtures and preludes and vocal extracts, where the excellent singers were Vivian della Chiesa, Jan Peerce and – once again - Nicola Moscona. Highlights include the whole of the first scene of Act II of I Lombardi, and the American premiere of Hymn of the Nations. Va pensiero makes a wholly appropriate choice for the depths of wartime. I assume that the extensive and excellently played solo violin part in the Act III prelude to I Lombardi is taken by Mischa Mischakoff.

Given the foregoing, collectors will be highly impressed by the standard of care exercised by IP in this latest release.

Jonathan Woolf

Collectors will be highly impressed by the standard of care exercised by IP.