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Arturo TOSCANINI conducts the NBC Symphony Orchestra in:-
Giuseppe MARTUCCI (1856-1909) - Symphony No. 1 in D minor
(1824-1884) Overture to the Bartered Bride
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Orpheus - Symphonic Poem
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) - Daphnis and Chloé - Suite No. 2

Commentaries by Robert Woldrop. Live broadcast recorded on 26th November 1938.
NAXOS Historical Great Conductors series 8.110818 [78:00]



Arturo Toscanini was born in Parma, Italy, in 1867 and after studying cello, piano and composition at the Conservatory there, he embarked on a career as a cellist in the town. After a spell as assistant principal cellist at La Scala (playing in the first performance of Verdi's Otello), he embarked on a a tour of South America where he was obliged to conduct a performance of Aida in Rio de Janiero. This he did from memory. Establishing himself back in Italy, he became musical director of the Teatro Regio in Turin in 1895, and three years later moved on to La Scala Milan where he won an enviable reputation for his thorough attention to every musical and dramatic detail of operatic performance. In 1908, he was with the Metropolitan Opera in New York returning to Italy in 1915. Five years later, he was back at La Scala with increased powers and resources. He eventually left Europe in protest to the encroaching tide of Fascism. In 1928, he achieved great success with the amalgamated New York Philharmonic and New York Symphony Orchestras. Later, in 1937, he was in charge of the orchestra specially created for him by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). It was with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, that Toscanini made many of his recordings. He had such a phenomenal memory he was able to conduct without a score. He made extreme demands on both himself and his players and his volatile temperament frequently erupted. He is often criticised for his rushed, insensitive performances but these live recordings prove otherwise.

I have to admit that I was attracted to reviewing this CD because the main work in the programme is the Martucci's Symphony No. 1. I was bowled over by this composer's music when I first heard the ASV D'Avalos recordings a few years ago.

Martucci (Respighi's teacher) was an Italian composer, conductor and pianist. Martucci's virtuosity, as pianist, was admired by Liszt and Anton Rubinstein. His role as travelling virtuoso took him all over Europe including London and Dublin. He started conducting in 1881. His concert repertory included many Northern European composers including Sullivan, Stanford, Parry, Mackenzie and Cowen as well as Wagner and Brahms. He conducted the first Italian production of Tristan and Isolde and he introduced Debussy's Prélude à l'après midi d'un faune to Italian audiences.

Martucci's First Symphony, not surprisingly then, looks northwards over the Alps for its inspiration. Toscanini delivers a muscular performance of the introductory movement which is forceful and heroic, and is moulded in the traditions of Beethoven and Schumann. Influences of Wagner and even Elgar are evident too. Surprisingly the more sweetly romantic passages anticipate the scores Korngold and Steiner would write for the 'women's pictures' of the 1930s and '40s. The Andante too is a glorious sentimental wallow with Martucci this time allowing himself typical Italian emotional excesses with Toscanini responding with heart-on-sleeve; and it is distinguished by the lovely cello theme which opens the movement. The Allegretto trots pleasantly along. It is a sort of pastorale/rustic dance very reminiscent of the scherzo of Brahms Second Symphony. The finale returns to knightly chivalry and heroic daring-do. The listener will be struck by the similarity of many passages to the nobilmente music of Elgar. Toscanini points up all these Pomp and Circumstance-like flourishes and unleashes a thrilling response from the NBC players.

Toscanini's magnificent and ultra-sensitive interpretation of Franz Lizst's lovely symphonic poem Orpheus is captured in extraordinarily vivid and clean sound. [It is a

Tribute to the engineering excellence of the Naxos engineers using the Cedar process to reduce (in this work practically eliminate) clicks and crackles and the Prism Sound SNS Noise Shaping Process.] The delicate filigree harp figurations are wonderfully realised and Toscanini creates a rapt sensuality full of romantic yearning as Orpheus sighs for his Eurydice. Towards the end, following a statement of dark brooding bass figures suggesting Hades, a powerful climax is reached as Orpheus attempts her rescue from the underworld.

Further evidence of Toscanini's attention to detail and his grasp of atmosphere is the voluptuousness of his Daphnis and Chloé. The opening daybreak episode is very evocative of nature in all its glory with twittering birds and buzzing insects etc. 'Pantomime' has a heavy sweet languor and the galloping rhythms of the 'Danse générale' thrill.

The remaining item that opens the programme is an energetic and exciting performance of Smetana's The Bartered Bride.

A very impressive example of Toscanini's art and recommended unreservedly. But buy the ASV recording of the Martucci Symphony to hear it in all its glory but be careful you might get hooked!


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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