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Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)
Fontane di Roma (1916) [14:42]
Pini di Roma (1924) [20:31]
Feste Romane (1929) [24:12]
Alfredo CATALANI (1854-1893)
La Wally: Prelude to Act IV (1892) [6:31]
Loreley: Dance of the Water Nymphs (1890) [6:22]
Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
La Forza del destino: Overture (1862 rev 1869) [7:03]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
rec. 1949-53, Carnegie Hall, New York
GUILD GHCD2429 [79:56]

Toscanini was to have given the world première of the Fountains of Rome in 1916, but the work was withdrawn from performance. He did give the Pines of Rome its American première in New York in 1926 and the world première of Roman Festivals with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony in 1928 with, as Robert Matthew-Walker’s notes tells us, the composer in the audience. So he was intimately associated with these sonically charged works and can be said to have established a tradition of performance that was to be realised in his 1949-53 recordings contained in this Guild disc.

By then other conductors had usurped his place in the Resphigian scheme of things and had recorded each of the three works, but Toscanini’s inscriptions are always worthy of the strictest scrutiny because of his august status as an interpretative artist and as a friend of the composer.

It’s unsurprising that the full splendour and colour of the works fail to survive the restricted sound quality. The Pines of the Villa Borghese doesn’t sound as sonically potent as stereo recording could make it but that’s merely to note the mono nature of things as one still feels something of a frisson at the Gothic charge summoned up in The Pines near a Catacomb as well as the charmed romance of the third Janiculum panel. By the time of the grandeur evoked in the Appian Way it’s clear that Toscanini’s direction is wholly idiomatic. So too in the case of the Fountains of Rome where, surely, the most vividly conducted moment is The Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset, a miracle of sustained evocation.

The 1949 Roman Festivals is bitingly and bracingly done, though arguably his earlier recording in Philadelphia is superior sonically. Still, you won’t easily forget – even in cramped sound – the palpable brassy frisson in The Circus Maximus or the bucolic drama of The October Festival or the popular song embedded in The Epiphany.

More Italian repertoire rounds out the disc in the shape of snippets from Catalani – the Dance of the Water Nymphs from Loreley is especially delightful – and Verdi’s overture to The Force of Destiny.

You’ll find these performances have been reissued a number of times. The Respighi pieces, the principal focus here, can be found in disc 32 of the Toscanini Edition on RCA; the sound there is brighter and sharper than these slightly more occluded transfers.

Jonathan Woolf



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