REVIEW Symphonies 1 and 2
The performances of the symphonies are compelling - and certainly much warmer and more lyrical than his recorded cycle with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. As interpretations, they rather contradict the impression that all Toscanini performances were somehow symmetrically constructed, with tempos often staggeringly similar from performance to performance. With the exceptions of the First and Fourth Symphonies, these Philharmonia accounts are often less expansive than the NBC cycle he recorded in late 1951/early 1952. The notable achievement in this cycle is the Third Symphony which here receives the most assured of all Toscanini's interpretations of this symphony - a performance of considerable sunniness with the most beautiful of cantabile ever-present. This contrasts with the NBC recording which is slow, lacks rhythmic tension and seems drawn downwards by an interminably long beat.
The First Symphony is a powerful performance, although as in all Toscanini's interpretations of this work he fails to conduct the opening bars of the work as they should be. These opening bars, with its unrelenting timpani strokes, are amongst the most grand and profoundly moving of all passages in the symphonic canon, yet Toscanini, like virtually most conductors, seems confused by Brahms' marking of sostenuto. Taken at almost quaver 100, the development of the opening timpani seems too fast - and he accelerates the timpani ruining the grand line that Brahm's intended (and for which you have to turn to Furtwängler or Celibidache to hear correctly played). This aside, however, the movement develops inexorably, with the contrapuntalism of Brahm's construction not only implied, but grandly developed. Dynamics, whilst not as scrupulously observed as Celibidache (the most inspired interpreter of this symphony) are actually more clearly heard in this Philharmonia account than in his NBC recording of the work. The opening drum rolls, even if tempi are wayward, do clearly distinguish between the opening f and the concluding ff, and in the first movement's main theme cellos, woodwind and horns play perfectly before the appearance of the crescendo. In fact, the care given to the woodwind is an example of this performance's individualism, and this is no more evident than in the finale with its horn and flute melodies, here played gorgeously by Dennis Brain and Gareth Morris. The playing here is certainly more distinctive than on the NBC recording, and recalls another Philharmonia recording of the First Symphony with Guido Cantelli (a performance remarkably similar to this one). The trombone's missed entry in the finale (and then his fluffed notes) do not noticeably ruin what is one of the very best (and most exciting) recordings of the work available.
Listening to the opening of the Second Symphony, with its low strings and horn and woodwind exchanges, I was amazed at how much presence exists in this Testament transfer. Toscanini was reputedly somewhat worried that string tone was somewhat undernourished, yet hearing the opening bars and then the entry of the string's first theme, one is aware of an extraordinary depth of tone. Tempi in this symphony are all swifter than in Toscanini's studio recording of the work, yet this is never at the expense of the string's beautifully phrased playing. The playing is at once lyrical as it is idyllic, with the tunes given a statuesque presence, the penumbral shading of Brahms' scoring spot-lit neatly against the borders of lighter melody. The second subject of the first movement is as song-like as one could ask for, the coda intense and evocative. If the middle movements are gracious, with felicitous woodwind playing, the finale, marked Allegro con spirito, is as grandiose and driven as any. The playing is wonderfully dynamic, the development to the coda remorselessly laid out before us but not overdriven in any way. When the triumphal coda appears, one of the most astonishing things Brahm's wrote (and as similarly transparent as the closing pages of Bruckner's Fifth symphony) the exuberance is infectious. The great brass sonorities are here captured magnificently, strings arching ever higher upwards, horns and trombones radiant to the close. The cheers at the end say it all!
Marc Bridle, MusicWeb International, April 2000 (Review of Testament CD issue)
Following our release last year of an XR-remastered edition of Toscanini's 1951 Carnegie Hall Brahms symphonies with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, I was repeatedly urged to tackle the London series he conducted in the Autumn of the following year. This is the first of two volumes, each dedicated to one of those two memorable concerts. The effect of Toscanini's return to the British capital for the first time since before the Second World War and the enthusiasm of the response of the music-lovers of Britain has been well-documented, as has the brilliance both of the Philharmonia Orchestra at this time, and the superb performances Toscanini elicited from it over two nights of Brahms.
These remasterings aim to bring the listener closer than ever to the magic of those nights, beginning and closing with excerpts of BBC radio commentary setting the stage, and the (edited!) rapturous applause reproduced. Much of this extra content was drawn from AM broadcast recordings which have taken some considerable effort to weave into the much high quality music recordings made by EMI. Happily the latter have responded brilliantly to Pristine's 32-bit XR remastering system, with a sound that's full, vibrant and very much alive - particularly do in our Ambient Stereo versions of this release.
Biographical notes from Wikipedia
Arturo Toscanini (March 25, 1867 – January 16, 1957) was an Italian conductor. He was one of the most acclaimed musicians of the late 19th and 20th century, renowned for his intensity, his perfectionism, his ear for orchestral detail and sonority, and his photographic memory. He was at various times the music director of La Scala Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Later in his career he was appointed the first music director of the NBC Symphony Orchestra (1937-54), and this led to his becoming a household name (especially in the United States) through his radio and television broadcasts and many recordings of the operatic and symphonic repertoire.
Toscanini was born in Parma, Emilia-Romagna, and won a scholarship to the local music conservatory, where he studied the cello. He joined the orchestra of an opera company, with which he toured South America in 1886. While presenting Aida in Rio de Janeiro, Leopoldo Miguez, the locally hired conductor, reached the summit of a two-month escalating conflict with the performers due to his rather poor command of the work, to the point that the singers went on strike and forced the company's general manager to seek a substitute conductor. Carlo Superti and Aristide Venturi tried unsuccessfully to finish the work. In desperation, the singers suggested the name of their assistant Chorus Master, who knew the whole opera from memory. Although he had no conducting experience, Toscanini was eventually convinced by the musicians to take up the baton at 9:15 pm, and led a performance of the two-and-a-half hour opera. The public was taken by surprise, at first by the youth and sheer aplomb of this unknown conductor, then by his solid mastery. The result was astounding acclaim. For the rest of that season Toscanini conducted eighteen operas, all with absolute success. Thus began his career as a conductor, at age 19.
Upon returning to Italy, Toscanini set out on a dual path for some time. He continued to conduct, his first appearance in Italy being at the Teatro Carignano in Turin, on November 4, 1886, in the world premiere of the revised version of Alfredo Catalani's Edmea (it had had its premiere in its original form at La Scala, Milan, on February 27, of that year). This was the beginning of Toscanini's lifelong friendship and championing of Catalani; he even named his first daughter Wally after the heroine of Catalani's opera La Wally. However, he also returned to his chair in the cello section, and participated as cellist in the world premiere of Verdi's Otello (La Scala, Milan, 1887) under the composer's supervision. Verdi, who habitually complained that conductors never seemed interested in directing his scores the way he had written them, was impressed by reports from Arrigo Boito about Toscanini's ability to interpret his scores. The composer was also impressed when Toscanini consulted him personally about the Te Deum, suggesting an allargando where it was not set out in the score. Verdi said that he had left it out for fear that "certain interpreters would have exaggerated the marking".
National and international fame
Gradually the young musician's reputation as an operatic conductor of unusual authority and skill supplanted his cello career. In the following decade he consolidated his career in Italy, entrusted with the world premieres of Puccini's La bohème and Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. In 1896, Toscanini conducted his first symphonic concert (in Turin, with works by Schubert, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, and Wagner). He exhibited a considerable capacity for hard work: in 1898 he conducted 43 concerts in Turin. By 1898 he was principal conductor at La Scala, where he remained until 1908, returning as Music Director, 1921–1929. He took the Scala Orchestra to the United States on a concert tour in 1920/21; it was during that tour that Toscanini made his first recordings (for the Victor Talking Machine Company).
Outside Europe, he conducted at the Metropolitan Opera in New York (1908–1915) as well as the New York Philharmonic Orchestra (1926–1936). He toured Europe with the New York Philharmonic in 1930; he and the musicians were acclaimed by critics and audiences wherever they went. Toscanini was the first non-German conductor to appear at Bayreuth (1930–1931), and the New York Philharmonic was the first non-German orchestra to play there. In the 1930s he conducted at the Salzburg Festival (1934–1937) and at the inaugural concert in 1936 of the Palestine Orchestra (later renamed the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) in Tel Aviv, and later performed with them in Jerusalem, Haifa, Cairo and Alexandria. During his engagement with the New York Philharmonic, Hans Lange, the son of the last Master of the Sultan's Music in Istanbul, who was later to become conductor at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the legendary founder of the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra as a professional ensemble, was his concert master.
During his career, Toscanini worked with such legendary artists as Enrico Caruso, Feodor Chaliapin, Ezio Pinza, Jussi Björling, and Geraldine Farrar. Although he also worked with Wagnerian heldentenor Lauritz Melchior, he would not work with Melchior's frequent partner Kirsten Flagstad after her political sympathies became suspect during World War II; it was Helen Traubel who sang with Melchior instead of Flagstad at the Toscanini concerts.
Departure from Italy to the United States
In 1919, Toscanini ran unsuccessfully as a Fascist parliamentary candidate in Milan. He had been called "the greatest conductor in the world" by Fascist leader Benito Mussolini. However, he became disillusioned with fascism and repeatedly defied the Italian dictator after the latter's ascent to power in 1922. He refused to display Mussolini's photograph or conduct the Fascist anthem Giovinezza at La Scala. He raged to a friend, "If I were capable of killing a man, I would kill Mussolini."
At a memorial concert for Italian composer Giuseppe Martucci on May 14, 1931 at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, he was ordered to begin by playing Giovinezza but he refused even though the fascist foreign minister Galeazzo Ciano was present in the audience. Afterwards he was, in his own words, "attacked, injured and repeatedly hit in the face" by a group of blackshirts. Mussolini, incensed by the conductor's refusal, had his phone tapped, placed him under constant surveillance and took away his passport. The passport was returned only after a world outcry over Toscanini's treatment. On the outbreak of the Second World War, Toscanini left Italy. He would return seven years later to conduct a concert at the restored La Scala Opera House, which was destroyed by bombs during the war.
Toscanini returned to the United States where the NBC Symphony Orchestra was created for him in 1937. He conducted his first NBC broadcast concert on December 25, 1937, in NBC Studio 8-H in New York City's Rockefeller Center. The acoustics of the specially built studio were very dry; some remodeling in 1939 added a bit more reverberation. (In 1950, the studio was further remodeled for television productions; today it is used by NBC for Saturday Night Live. In 1980, it was used by Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in a series of special televised NBC concerts called "Live From Studio 8H", the first one being a tribute to Toscanini, punctuated by clips from his television concerts.)
The NBC broadcasts were preserved on large transcription discs, recorded at both 78-rpm and 33-1/3 rpm, until NBC began using magnetic tape in 1947. NBC used special RCA high fidelity microphones both for the broadcasts and for recording them; these microphones can be seen in some photographs of Toscanini and the orchestra. Some of Toscanini's recording sessions for RCA Victor were mastered on sound film in a process developed about 1941, as detailed by RCA producer Charles O'Connell in his memoirs, On and Off The Record. In addition, hundreds of hours of Toscanini's rehearsals with the NBC were preserved and are now housed in the Toscanini Legacy archive at The New York Public Library.
Toscanini was often criticized for neglecting American music; however, on November 5, 1938, he conducted the world premieres of two orchestral works by Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings and Essay for Orchestra. The performance received significant critical acclaim. In 1945, he led the orchestra in recording sessions of the Grand Canyon Suite by Ferde Grofé in Carnegie Hall (supervised by Grofé) and An American in Paris by George Gershwin in NBC's Studio 8-H. Both works had earlier been performed in broadcast concerts. He also conducted broadcast performances of Copland's El Salón México; Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with soloists Earl Wild and Benny Goodman and Piano Concerto in F with pianist Oscar Levant; and music by other American composers, including marches of John Philip Sousa. He even wrote his own orchestral arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner, which was incorporated into the NBC Symphony's performances of Verdi's Hymn of the Nations. (Earlier, while music director of the New York Philharmonic, he conducted music by Abram Chasins, Bernard Wagenaar, and Howard Hanson.)
In 1940, Toscanini took the orchestra on a "goodwill" tour of South America. Later that year, Toscanini had a disagreement with NBC management over their use of his musicians in other NBC broadcasts. This, among other reasons, resulted in a letter which Toscanini wrote on March 10, 1941 to RCA's David Sarnoff. He stated that he now wished "to withdraw from the militant scene of Art" and thus declined to sign a new contract for the up-coming winter season, but left the door open for an eventual return "if my state of mind, health and rest will be improved enough". So Leopold Stokowski was engaged on a three-year contract instead and served as the NBC Symphony's music director from 1941 until 1944. Toscanini's state of mind soon underwent a change and he returned as Stokowski's co-conductor for the latter's second and third seasons resuming full control in 1944.
One of the more remarkable broadcasts was in July 1942, when Toscanini conducted the American premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7. Due to World War II, the score was microfilmed in the Soviet Union and brought by courier to the United States. Stokowski had previously given the US premieres of Shostakovich's 1st, 3rd and 6th Symphonies in Philadelphia, and in December 1941 urged NBC to obtain the score of the 7th as he wanted to conduct its premiere as well. But Toscanini coveted this for himself and there were a number of remarkable letters between the two conductors (reproduced by Harvey Sachs in his biography) before Stokowski agreed to let Toscanini have the privilege of conducting the first performance. Unfortunately for New York listeners, a major thunderstorm virtually obliterated the NBC radio signals there, but the performance was heard elsewhere and preserved on transcription discs. It was later issued by RCA Victor in the 1967 centennial boxed set tribute to Toscanini, which included a number of NBC broadcasts never released on discs. In Testimony Shostakovich himself expressed a dislike for the performance, after he heard a recording of the broadcast. In Toscanini's later years the conductor expressed dislike for the work and amazement that he had actually conducted it.
In the summer of 1950, Toscanini led the orchestra on an extensive transcontinental tour. It was during that tour that the well-known photograph of Toscanini riding the ski lift at Sun Valley, Idaho was taken. Toscanini and the musicians traveled on a special train chartered by NBC.
The NBC concerts continued in Studio 8-H until the fall of 1950. They were then held in Carnegie Hall, where many of the orchestra's recording sessions had been held, due to the dry acoustics of Studio 8-H. The final broadcast performance, an all-Wagner program, took place on April 4, 1954, in Carnegie Hall. During this concert Toscanini suffered a memory lapse reportedly caused by a transient ischemic attack, although some have attributed the lapse to having been secretly informed that NBC intended to end the broadcasts and disband the NBC orchestra. He never conducted live in public again. That June, he participated in his final recording sessions, remaking portions of two Verdi operas so they could be commercially released. Toscanini was 87 years old when he retired. After his retirement, the NBC Symphony was reorganized as the Symphony of the Air, making regular performances and recordings, until it was disbanded in 1963. It was heard one last time (as the NBC Symphony Orchestra) in the 1963 telecast of Gian Carlo Menotti's Christmas opera for television, Amahl and the Night Visitors.
On radio, Toscanini conducted seven complete operas, including Fidelio, La bohème, La traviata, and Otello, all of which were eventually released on records and CD, thus enabling the modern listening public to have at least some idea of what an opera conducted by Toscanini sounded like.
With the help of his son Walter, Toscanini spent his remaining years editing tapes and transcriptions of his performances with the NBC Symphony. The "approved" recordings were issued by RCA Victor, which also has issued his recordings with the La Scala Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. His recordings with the BBC Symphony Orchestra (1937–39) and the Philharmonia Orchestra (1952) were issued by EMI. Various companies have issued recordings on compact discs of a number of broadcasts and concerts that he did not officially approve. Among these are stereophonic recordings of his last two NBC broadcast concerts.
Sachs and other biographers have documented the numerous conductors, singers, and musicians who visited Toscanini during his retirement. He was a big fan of early television, especially boxing and wrestling telecasts, as well as comedy programs.
Toscanini died on January 16, 1957 at the age of 89 at his home in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in New York City. His body was returned to Italy and was buried in the Cimitero Monumentale in Milan. His epitaph is taken from one account of his remarks concluding the 1926 premiere of Puccini's unfinished Turandot: "Qui finisce l'opera, perché a questo punto il maestro è morto" ("Here the opera ends, because at this point the maestro died"). During his funeral service, Leyla Gencer sang an aria from Verdi's Requiem.
In his will, he left his baton to his protégée Herva Nelli, who sang in the broadcasts of Otello, Aïda, Falstaff, the Verdi Requiem, and Un ballo in maschera.
Toscanini was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.
Toscanini married Carla De Martini on June 21, 1897, when she was not yet 20 years old. Their first child, Walter, was born on March 19, 1898. A daughter, Wally, was born on January 16, 1900. Carla gave birth to another boy, Giorgio, in September 1901, but he died of diphtheria on June 10, 1906. Then, that same year, Carla gave birth to their second daughter, Wanda.
Toscanini worked with many great singers and musicians throughout his career, but few impressed him as much as Vladimir Horowitz. They worked together a number of times and recorded Brahms' second piano concerto and Tchaikovsky's first piano concerto with the NBC Symphony for RCA. Horowitz also became close to Toscanini and his family. In 1933, Wanda Toscanini married Horowitz, with the conductor's blessings and warnings. It was Wanda's daughter, Sonia, who was once photographed by Life playing with the conductor.
During World War II, Toscanini lived in Wave Hill, a historic home in Riverdale.
Despite the reported infidelities revealed in Toscanini's letters documented by Harvey Sachs, he remained married to Carla until she died on June 23, 1951.
At La Scala, which had what was then the most modern stage lighting system installed in 1901 and an orchestral pit installed in 1907, Toscanini pushed through reforms in the performance of opera. He insisted on dimming the house-lights during performances. As his biographer Harvey Sachs wrote: "He believed that a performance could not be artistically successful unless unity of intention was first established among all the components: singers, orchestra, chorus, staging, sets, and costumes."
Toscanini favored the traditional orchestral seating plan with the first violins and cellos on the left, the violas on the near right, and the second violins on the far right.
Toscanini conducted the world premieres of many operas, four of which have become part of the standard operatic repertoire: Pagliacci, La bohème, La fanciulla del West and Turandot; he took an active role in Alfano's completion of Puccini's Turandot. He also conducted the first Italian performances of Siegfried, Götterdämmerung, Salome, Pelléas et Mélisande, and Euryanthe, as well as the South American premieres of Tristan und Isolde and Madama Butterfly and the North American premiere of Boris Godunov. He also conducted the world premiere of Samuel Barber's most famous work, the Adagio for Strings.
Notes continue here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toscanini