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Arturo Toscanini (conductor)
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York: Complete Recordings - Volume 1
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 101 in D Major “Clock”
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 35 in D Major, K385 “Haffner”
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Lohengrin: Preludes, Acts I and III
Götterdämmerung: Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey
A Siegfried Idyll
Tristan und Isolde: Prelude and Liebestod
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations on a Theme of Haydn, Op. 56a
rec. studio and live 1929-36
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC575 [3 CDs: 213:15]

These historic and acclaimed recordings have been the stuff of legend for eighty years or more and its wonderful to hear them in astonishingly fine sound. To quote Andrew Rose of Pristine Audio “The present series brings together, over two volumes, all of Arturo Toscanini’s studio recordings with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York for the Victor and Brunswick labels, along with the two recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that Victor made during live performances in 1931 and 1933.”

All issued takes are presented, including several that were substituted for the original recordings in the early 1940s, as well as one alternate take unpublished on 78 rpm. As a bonus, the first volume concludes with a previously un-issued studio recording which Toscanini made with the NBC Symphony in 1941. In addition to the Beethoven Fifth there's also a recording of his Seventh Symphony, plus symphonies by Haydn - "Clock" - and Mozart - "Haffner", Brahms' Variations on a Theme of Haydn together with a selection of orchestral excerpts from the operas of Wagner. All have been transferred and digitally re-mastered by a veteran of these recordings, Mark Obert-Thorn, who first tackled them, for Pearl, in 1989 His efforts then were hailed by Musical America as “the finest historical reissue of the year”. Mr Rose concludes “Hear them now in a stunning sound quality undreamed of even 30 years ago.”

I first heard some of these recordings back in 1989, when the Pearl set came out and it was, my introduction to pre-war classical recordings. I had first heard Toscanini with his 1953 Dvorak New World Symphony, a fine performance, bought second-hand for 50p on LP in 1973. These recordings are now regarded as some of the most important ever made. Toscanini before the war, was generally regarded as more flexible than in his later performances and in these he was (with some additions) with the New York Philharmonic. It is important to remember that he was born in 1867, first conducted in 1886 and was therefore sixty before any of these recordings were set down. Unlike Otto Klemperer, who got slower with age, dear Arturo got faster.

I will be making certain comparisons, so this review needs to be reasonably lengthy. However readers who know the recordings are assured of greatly improved sound and if I tempt those who usually avoid “Historical Performances”, my aim will have been achieved.

Whilst we now regard Toscanini as one of the world’s greatest recording artists whose records have sold millions, the notes point out that this was not always the case. After some recordings for RCA and Brunswick, Charles O’Connell of RCA wrote in 1933 “Our last two experiences with Toscanini have been such as to discourage any further attempts to record him; furthermore, having spent in the neighbourhood of $10,000 (nearly $200,000 in 2019), in these attempts we are fairly well cured of our ambitions in this direction”. Nevertheless, toward the end of his final season as music director of the Philharmonic in 1936, RCA was able to reach a compromise with the Maestro. Recordings would be made during studio sessions, which would allow for retakes; but they would be taken down without fully stopping after each side. Instead, at pre-arranged points in the score, the conductor would pause momentarily while the next side was begun on a second cutter. We can be ever grateful that these recordings were made. Recordings were also made in London during his visits from 1935 onwards but these were BBC live concerts, most recently on the essential “Toscanini in London”.

CD 1 has two composers for whom Toscanini was not famed, Haydn and Mozart. Indeed his infamous recording of Die Zauberflöte was described by Inspector Morse as the worst ever. Paradoxically, when I first heard these performances thirty years ago, I found them the most approachable, particularly the Andante of the Haffner. Haydn’s Clock Symphony was a favourite of Toscanini and he conducted it back in 1896 and at the first NYPO concert in 1929. He later left several versions, which have been reviewed on MWI, mainly by Jonathan Woolf. Bearing in mind, its ninety years, the recording sounds remarkably well and Mark Obert-Thorn has achieved wonders. The key movement is undoubtedly the “tick-tock” of the Andante, of which we have two takes. It is charming in a manner not usually associated with Toscanini. There is an unexpected litheness and elasticity even if it doesn’t “smile” in the Beecham style, using similarly questionable texts. The Menuetto undoubtedly dances, if a bit stiffly and through the miracle of re-mastering, drums come through the inevitable (but slight) surface noise. The Finale goes particularly well with traces of “portamenti’ (sliding of the strings) which the notes attribute to the tenure of the controversial Willem Mengelberg, although without the abrupt changes in tempo.

The Haffner Symphony starts with a tempo that brings a huge smile and surely could only emanate from the Maestro’s baton. Present there are certain similarities of historically informed practice, unheard of then. The orchestral sound is very clear and conveys the fact that 58 musicians are involved but it certainly avoids Romantic overtones. After a jubilant Allegretto con spirito, the Andante has a delicacy whilst retaining a pulse. It has been some time since hearing this and it certainly didn’t disappoint in its fresh garb. The way the development section emerges continues to enchant and it’s remarkable to so enjoy such vintage execution. Jonathan Woolf in his review of the aforementioned Toscanini in London feels that the more recent version, with smaller forces is more flexible and less doctrinaire than his later NBC performances. Personally, I have always warmed to this recording and find both the Menuetto and Finale two versions, very exciting if leaving one breathless. The London outing had the special talents of Aubrey Brain, Dennis’s father, but the New York horns acquit themselves well. It’s not the rendition many might have expected.

Beethoven 5 was recorded twice in this period and an earlier 1931 version will appear in Volume 2. This recording appeared on Pearl but has never been released by RCA as it was not approved by the Maestro. I have it in two previous incarnations, Pearl and Naxos, as detailed above, both re-mastered by the unique Mark Obert-Thorn. My colleague Jonathan Woolf preferred the 1931 recording, made on film, when he reviewed the latter CD. It will be interesting to compare the two versions in due course. The 1933 outing is a fine one and goes at a fair lick from the start; the sound is remarkable for 86 years. Despite being on the faster side, compared say to the admirable Furtwängler, it isn’t hard-driven and with some “air’ around the orchestra, there is dynamic colour. The Andante is suitably stately and I love the tenderness which comes through the years. The engineers seem to have done a fine job in capturing the musicians; I simply don’t understand why Toscanini refused release. Played on a good sound system, this is an admirable performance, not just one remarkable for the years. I’d rate the Andante as a huge success and it leads us into the menacing Allegro, the brass marvellously bright and the darkened strings carrying an air of foreboding. Praise to Mark Obert-Thorn cannot be too high for his efforts here; yes, it sounds “vintage” but not “old”. The transition into the famous finale is one of the greatest moments in the history of the Symphony and the build-up has listeners on the edge of their seats. As the triumphal march burst through there should be a real thrill and a release of tension and there certainly is here. The final minutes are absolutely “white heat” but avoid the “rigid “nature associated with the Maestro’s later recordings. It comes to a clear concise but emotional ending. Quite simply, a magnificent rendition of a unique masterpiece. We are very privileged to hear this and so well restored.

For myself and I suspect many others, the key recording is Beethoven 7 from 1936. It caused a sensation at the time and has continued to be regarded as not only one of the finest renditions of the symphony but also of any Beethoven. About the time that I first heard this, thirty years ago, my wonderful late father-in-law told me he’d played the 78s during the War at his sister and brother-in-law’s farmhouse in Devon. When I played him the RCA CD in around 1993 he was totally absorbed in the music and it was a real privilege to hear it together. There are two First Movements here, the second one, slightly faster was usually the one used commercially. The recording sounds transformed from previous incarnations and orchestral detail emerges for the first time. There is a real pulse and there is no doubt of the conductor’s and orchestra’s love of the music. If I pick out the Allegretto it’s because it means so much to our family but it also contradicts the usual charges of Toscanini’s approach. This should be heard by all lovers of good music.

The final CD in this set consists mainly of Wagner and has been released and some of it reviewed previously by MWI. I confess that I don’t know Wagner’s vast output nearly as well as perhaps I should do. There are certain passages that I love and find recordings by Solti very invigorating. The Lohengrin and Götterdämmerung sound remarkable to my ears and, it should be remembered, Toscanini conducted at Bayreuth in 1933, Hitler’s rise preventing his visit that year. Siegfried Idyll from 1936 is a performance that I know and admire. It is one of my favourite pieces of Wagner and surely influenced Elgar. It sounds excellent here.

Brahms was one of Toscanini’s specialities and he was thirty already when the Hamburg composer died. I still recall hearing his RCA Brahms Symphony 1 on Radio 3 in 1990 and sharing my feeling of exultation with my late father. Later, his famous BBC recordings with the Philharmonia from 1952 were released on Testament. It was at that time that the Orchestra’s founder and EMI producer told the stunned 85-year-old Maestro that he should re-record his entire repertoire because of the “dry sound” of Studio 8H. Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a (St. Antoni Chorale) is another favourite and influence on Elgar, whose “Enigma Variations” Toscanini memorably performed and of which he left at least two recordings. Toscanini had been conducting the Brahms since 1886 and clearly loved the work. Compared to the first CD the sound here has even greater clarity with very little surface noise. The performance does have the “stop-go” quality, referred to by Jonathan Woolf on a later performance but generally it flows well and the wind is beautifully captured, especially Variation VI. It’s certainly a tender performance, for example the beautiful Variation VII which illustrates Toscanini’s profound love for Brahms, as those who heard him in London in 1952 can attest. This exceptional performance comes to a life-enhancing conclusion and yet again the orchestral textures, with splendid flourishes, are superbly conveyed. Credit too for separately banding the variations; top marks again.

The “bonus recordings” which are very generous, are with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, The Prelude from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde comes from 1941 and a Pristine Audio all-Wagner CD reviewed by my colleague Paul Corfield Godfrey. contains a Prelude from the same date. I’ve read many of his Wagner reviews with interest and would refer readers to his review. He comments that it “gives the lie to Toscanini’s reputation for speed even when he presses forward towards climaxes”. This never ceases to move me and it’s a delight to hear it here in such a dedicated performance. The notes say that this version is previously unreleased. The Liebestod from 1942 brings this exceptional set to a splendid and evocative conclusion, even for those of us who have yet to come fully to appreciate Wagner.
I had been looking forward to hearing this set from the moment that I had heard of its release but the reality has far exceeded my exceptions. These are some of the greatest performances ever committed to disc and should be enjoyed by all lovers of great music. Many congratulations to Mark Obert-Thorn for his exceptional work and all at Pristine Audio. Roll on Volume 2.
David R Dunsmore

CD 1 [64:10]
HAYDN: Symphony No. 101 in D major, “The Clock”
1. 1st Mvt: Adagio; Presto [7:39]
2. 2nd Mvt: Andante (originally issued Take 3 for first side) [7:58]
3. 3rd Mvt: Menuett: Allegro [7:16]
4. 4th Mvt: Finale: Vivace (originally issued Take 3) [4:34]
5. 2nd Mvt: Andante (substitute Take 2 for first side*) [7:59]
6. 4th Mvt: Finale: Vivace (substitute Take 1*) [4:36]
rec. 29–30 March 1929 ∙ Matrices: CVE 48940-2, 48941-1, 48943-2* or -3, 48944-3, 48946-3, 48947-3 & 48945-1* or -3. First issued on Victor 7077/80 in album M-57
MOZART: Symphony No. 35 in D major, “Haffner”, K385
7. 1st Mvt: Allegro con spirito [5:35]
8. 2nd. Mvt: Andante [7:02]
9. 3rd. Mvt: Menuetto [4:02]
10. 4th Mvt: Presto (originally issued Take 1) [3:45]
11. 4th Mvt: Presto (substitute Take 2*) [3:42]
rec. 30 March and 4–5 April 1929 ∙ Matrices: CVE 48953-3, 48954-3, 48955-3, 48949-1 & 48952-1 or -2*. First issued on Victor 7136/8 in album M-6
CD 2 [77:30]
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
1. 1st Mvt: Allegro con brio [6:25]
2. 2nd Mvt: Andante con moto [10:14]
3. 3rd Mvt: Allegro [5:06]
4. 4th Mvt: Allegro [9:16]
rec. live. 9 April 1933 ∙ Matrices: CS 75698-3, 75699-1, 75700-1, 76201-1, 76202-4, 76203-1, 76217-1, 76218-1 and 76219-1 ∙ Unissued on 78 rpm
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
5. 1st Mvt: Poco sostenuto; Vivace (originally issued Take 1 for first side) [11:56]
6. 1st Mvt: Poco sostenuto; Vivace (substitute Take 2 for first side*) [11:31]
7. 2nd Mvt: Allegretto [8:48]
8. 3rd Mvt: Presto [7:12]
9. 4th Mvt: Allegro con brio [7:01]
rec. 9–10 April 1936 ∙ Matrices: CS 101200-1 or -2*, 101201-2, 101202-2, 101203-1, 101204-1, 101205-1, 101206-1, 101207-1, 101208-1 & 101209-1A. First issued on Victor 14097/101 in album M-31

CD 3 [71:37]
WAGNER: Lohengrin
1. Prelude to Act 1 [8:52]
2. Prelude to Act 3 [3:17]
rec. 9 April 1936 ∙ Matrices: CS 94661-3, 94662-3 & 94660-3. First issued on Victor 14006/7 in album M-308
WAGNER: Götterdämmerung
3. Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey [11:20]
rec. 8 February 1936 ∙ Matrices: CS 94657-2, 94658-2 & 94659-1. First issued on Victor 14007/8 in album M-308
4. WAGNER: Siegfried Idyll [16:14]
rec. 8 February 1936 ∙ Matrices: CS 94663-1, 94664-1, 94665-1 & 94666-1. First issued on Victor 14009/10 in album M-308
BRAHMS: Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a (St. Antoni Chorale)
5. Chorale St. Antoni: Andante [2:01]
6. Variation I: Poco più animato [1:08]
7. Variation II: Più vivace [0:51]
8. Variation III: Con moto [1:43]
9. Variation IV: Andante con moto [2:01]
10. Variation V: Vivace [0:49]
11. Variation VI: Vivace [1:05]
12. Variation VII: Grazioso [2:05]
13. Variation VIII: Presto non troppo [0:51]
14. Finale: Andante [3:45]
rec. 10 April 1936 ∙ Matrices: CS 101210-1, 101211-1, 101212-2 & 101213-1. First issued on Victor 14374/5 in album M-355
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Arturo Toscanini ∙
“Bonus Tracks”:
WAGNER: Tristan und Isolde
15. Prelude to Act 1 [10:00]
16. Liebestod [Act 3]* [5:34]
rec. 17 March 1941 & *19 March 1942 ∙ Matrices: CS 062570-1A, 062571-1 & 073219*. Prelude previously unpublished; Liebestod first issued on Victor 11-8666 in album M-978.
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini∙
All recordings made in Carnegie Hall, New York City

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