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Toscanini Conducts Contemporary Russian Music
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Symphony No. 1 in D major, Classical, Op. 25 (1916) [13:35]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)
Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10 (1923-25) [32:02]
Dmitri KABALEVSKY (1904-1987)
Symphony No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18 (1934) [24:12]
Overture to Colas Breugnon (1937) [5:07]
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
rec. live mono broadcasts, NBC Studio 8H, Radio City, New York: 15 November 1947 (Prokofiev); 14 January 1939 (Shostakovich); 8 November 1942 & 11 April 1943 (Kabalevsky)

The radio origins of these recordings, made during the period when the USA and USSR enjoyed sympathetic relations, are immediately obvious. Each is preceded by a very short radio announcer intro. The preceding announcements are separately tracked and there are applause and radio announcements at the end of each work. The track timings include the closing remarks and clapping. Andrew Rose’s sedulous clean-sounding way with transfers has purged any temptation to resurrect long-held complaints about Studio 8H. The results are lively, pliable and with plenty of ‘bounce’. Listen to Colas Breugnon as a shop-front for the disc.

Rather like Lani Spahr’s transfers for SOMM in “Elgar in America” volume 1 the results here secured by Andrew Rose are a monophonic pleasure. Even so, Toscanini’s ferocious, indeed ruthless, speeds will at times have you catching your breath in the Prokofiev. The streaming Larghetto is an example. Pristine assure us that this was the only composition of Prokofiev’s that Toscanini ever conducted. Its style was probably better in tune with the generality of music Toscanini favoured.

The Shostakovich First Symphony was, together with the Seventh, the only symphony by this composer that Toscanini conducted. He is said to have done the First some ten times with a range of orchestras - the NY Philharmonic (1931), the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (1939), the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1937), the La Scala Orchestra (1946) and the NBCSO (1939 and 1944). It is something of an experience to hear Toscanini in music of this sort and it’s a crackerjack of a performance with a dazzling orchestral piano solo. His tastes in no way paralleled those of Stokowski and this work must at times have been awkward grist for his mill. His American music adventures took him to scores nowhere near as ‘outlandish’ as this; although Creston came close.

Andrew Rose recounts that Toscanini programmed Kabalevsky’s Second Symphony twice, in 1942 and 1945, each with the NBCSO. Press reception seems to have been warmly welcoming. The symphony, in its two outer movements, rips and roars and Toscanini does nothing to retard the steeple-chase. There’s a natural Miaskovskian trudgingly ascending majesty about the central Andante. This was the first performance of the Symphony in the USA. The same composer’s convulsive and swooning Colas Breugnon overture, composed in 1936, was a Toscanini favourite and it sounds pretty wonderful. Toscanini even went so far as embark on a commercial recording of the overture with RCA in 1946, not that this appears to have been much reissued.

Decently generous helpings of silences separate each work. That’s thoughtful and a mark of Pristine’s elite approach to aesthetics as well as technicality. All in all, this disc reminds admirers of this conductor, and of Soviet music of the era, that the two had their moments in the sun.

Rob Barnett

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