Toscanini conducts American Music Volume 1
NBC Radio Introduction [0:30] Charles Martin LOEFFLER (1861-1912) Memories of My Childhood (Life in a Russian Village) (1923) [13:47] Paul CRESTON (1906-1985) Choric Dance No. 2 (1939) [5:50] Morton GOULD (1913-1996) Lincoln Legend (1941) [17:29] George GERSHWIN (1898-1937) Rhapsody in Blue (1924, orch. Grofé 1926 rev. 1942) [16:27]
Earl Wild (piano); Benny Goodman (clarinet)
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
rec. broadcast, 1 November 1942, Studio 8H, NBC Radio City, New York City
Programme introduced by Ben Grauer PRISTINE PASC495 [54:03]
Radio Introduction [0:23] Henry F GILBERT (1868-1928) Comedy Overture on Negro Themes (1910) [8:37] Kent KENNAN (1913-2003) Night Soliloquy (1936) [4:12] Charles Tomlinson GRIFFES (1884-1920) The White Peacock (1915) [4:58] Ferde GROFÉ (1892-1972) Grand Canyon Suite (1931) [34:57]
Radio Outro [0:59]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
rec. broadcast, 7 February 1943, Studio 8H, NBC Radio City, New York City PRISTINE PASC497 [53:46]
Pristine continue to serve, with authority and élan, their cherished musical niches and those niches are legion. Here they mesh two of their favoured channels: Great Conductors (here Toscanini) and American Music. Before this they have done similar service for Hanson and Herrmann, as well as having done other American one-offs.
Some of the present archival material (Toscanini concerts from 1942-43) has surfaced before on Guild (reviewreview) but these transfers have been freshly made over by Pristine and can be enjoyed in XR re-mastering. Andrew Rose tells us that a previously unused source has been drawn on for the present transfer. It certainly sounds that way and the backgrounds are indeed quiet. It was a well thought through decision to include the radio narration as it places the performances in time. Toscanini seems not to have been a fan of American music and I would guess only took these two concerts on board because of the irresistible compulsion of wartime and patriotism.
I have a soft spot for Loeffler and wish that more of his music was available on disc. This nostalgic suite is a dramatic grand impressionist piece. It is here heard in delightful sound but in a single track unlike the somewhat noisier Guild disc - now long gone. Creston's Choric Dance is typical of that phase of this composer's development. It is tough, rhythmically punctilious and orchestrated with elite skill. Toscanini here makes me wish that he had had enough time and inclination to tackle this composer's second and third symphonies - definitely a track for Crestonians. Morton Gould's Lincoln Legend is a purely orchestral contribution to the literature - which is surprisingly extensive - of American works in celebration of Lincoln. It is a serious essay: more Barber than the Gould we know from his more cheesily exposed playtime works. The Gershwin, again heard in surprisingly rich and wide-ranging mono, was clearly a glitzy event with celebrity soloists. The performance is quite cool and analytical; not at all the whooping extravagance I might have expected in these circumstances.
Volume 2 opens with the Gilbert overture. This, as Rose says, is not happily titled these days. However, before we get too high and mighty about these things do leaf through the concert ephemera of the UK's orchestras from the 1800s onwards to the mid-fifties. You can then reflect on a queasy tradition that seems finally to have petered out only with the demise of the BBC's Black and White Minstrel Show. In fact, this Gilbert piece is by no means the white teeth and blacked-up gibberish you might expect. From that aspect it's no worse than say Enescu's Romanian Rhapsodies. You need to listen past the title.
Kent Kennan - graduate of the Eastman School - is represented by his Night Soliloquy. This is rhapsodic, strangely sunny and ecstatic music. Griffes appears in the first of his Four Roman Sketches, The White Peacock. Warm and Debussian sounds are at play here yet Toscanini and Griffes keep things mobile. The music has its own profile but you can think in terms of Debussy's Faune, Bax's Spring Fire and the lush green thickets of Bernstein's reading of E B Hill's orchestral Prelude. These are the best transfers I have heard. True, the original engineers pulled back for the voluptuous climax at 1.35 - you can hear them shying away from this saturated moment - but the results are still extremely effective. This wincing away from loud passages happens several times in the Griffes.
The Grofé has its colourful picturesque moments and plenty of them. However, it's a shame that Toscanini was not able to opt for something more substantial among Americana, say Harris's Fifth Symphony. If it had to be Grofé it’s such a pity he did not opt for Metropolis: a Fantasy in Blue (1928); Knute Rocknetone poem (1931) , Rip Van Winkle (1932), Ode to Freedom (1937), Trylon and Perisphere, a one- movement tone poem for the New York World's Fair of 1939–40, or Wheels, for orchestra (1939) dedicated to the Ford dealers of America.
Andrew Rose's Pristine has done wonderfully well and I hope he will not stop there. It would be good if he would issue other American symphony recordings from off-air, including those by Roy Harris, Creston, Piston and Schuman. I would also add to the wish-list one barely considered master whose major symphonic and choral works have yet to catch anyone's attention: those of Cecil Effinger (1914-1990).
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