TOSCANINI Verdi - Aïda (1949) - PACO197

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TOSCANINI Verdi - Aïda (1949) - PACO197

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Overview

VERDI Aïda

Live broadcast recording, 1949
Total duration: 2hr 15:43

Aïda – Herva Nelli
Amneris – Eva Gustavson
Radamès – Richard Tucker
Amonasro – Giuseppe Valdegno
Il Re (Pharoah) – Dennis Harbour
Ramfis – Norman Scott

Robert Shaw Chorale
directed by Robert Shaw
NBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Arturo Toscanini

This set contains the following albums:

"PASSING his eighty-second birthday, Mr. Toscanini has afforded the audience of the nation, and we hope of even wider areas, a consummative example of interpretation in his broadcast performance in two parts of Verdi's “Aida,” completed yesterday afternoon in Radio City. Thanks enough can hardly be given the National Broadcasting Company which made such a performance available to every listener with a radio or television set at his disposal, wherever he might happen to be.

It is not this winter’s belief that any radio transmission can catch completely the innermost nuance or pulsation of such a performance, which is to be experienced completely only perhaps by those within actual earshot. Something is denatured in the transmission, to say nothing of the fact that it is still necessary, as we understand it—knowing nothing whatever of the technical process—to limit the sonorous range from very soft to very loud in any broadcasting. These limitations, though they lessen every year, do inhere in radio transmission.

On the other hand, such is the power in the province of the art which we ourselves are incapable of regarding as anything but the supreme art of them all—the art of music—that the thought and emotion back of the notes responsible for their projection come through unmistakably. The listener must sense strongly the creative impulsion of such a Toscanini interpretation. Whatever the acoustical boundaries, if the listener is at all sensitive himself he is likely to "get it." He may not get the complete impression that he does if he sits in Studio 8H, but he will be caught in the evocative power of such a recreation of music."

Olin Downes, New York Times, 3 April 1949


The opening paragraphs of Olin Downes' essay on Toscanini's 1949 NBC Aïda express, in the kindest possible way, his frustration at the inability of a contemporary radio broadcast to reproduce the experience of hearing the performance in real life (the article is reproduced in full here - see tabs above).

It's the eternal quest both of the hi-fi buff or audiophile, and the recording producers and engineers whose work aims to bring the listener as close as possible to the "real thing", whatever that may actually be - one person's perception somewhere in the upper tiers of an opera house will inevitably differ considerably to that of the conductor in the orchestra pit. Toscanini famously desired the kind of bone dry acoustic he was almost certainly used to in the opera houses he'd spent his life working in, something modern ears often struggle with.

Any recording therefore includes a degree of artifice - we are no more able to visit the Studio 8H of 1949 today than most listeners could in 1949. Instead my aim is to offer a somewhat idealised sound to this recording - a sense of dimensional air around the performers in the absence of true stereo, a correctional equalisation to overcome the shortcomings of 1940s recording equipment, and so on. Hopefully as a result of this we can get closer than ever to Olin Downes' "innermost nuance or pulsation of such a performance".

Andrew Rose

VERDI Aïda

disc one (75:57)

1. Prelude  (3:14)

ACT ONE
2. Sì: corre voce che l'Etiope  (1:30)
3. Se quel guerrier ... Celeste Aïda  (4:16)
4. Quale insolita gioia nel tuo sguardo!  (2:23)
5. Dessa!  (1:25)
6. Ohimé!  Di guerra fremere  (1:52)
7. Alta cagion v'aduna  (1:13)
8. Il sacro suolo dell'Egitto é invaso  (1:57)
9. Su! Del Nilo al sacro lido  (2:28)
10. Ritorna vincitor!  (6:07)
11. Possente Fthà!  (3:06)
12. Sacred Dance Of The Priestesses  (2:03)
13. Mortal, dilet to ai numi  (1:00)
14. Nume, custode e vindice  (4:27)

ACT TWO
15. Chi mai fra gl'inni a i plausi  (2:30)
16. Dance Of The Moorish Slaves  (1:29)
17. Vieni: sul crin ti piovano  (0:42)
18. Silenzio! Aïda verso noi s'avaza  (5:37)
19. Pietà, ti prenda del mo dolor  (1:46)
20. Su! Del Nilo al scaro lido  (2:20)
21. Gloria all'Egitto, ad Iside  (3:25)
22. March And Ballet  (5:52)
23. Vieni, o guerriero vindice  (2:22)
24. Salvator della patria  (1:17)
25. Concedi in pria  (0:44)
26. Che veggo! Egli? Mio padre!  (0:51)
27. Quest'assisa chio vesto vi dica  (0:58)
28. Ma tu, re, tu, signore possente  (3:46)
29. O re, pei sacri numi  (2:16)
30. Gloria all'Egitto, ad Iside  (1:10)
31. Fa' cor: della tua patria  (1:55)


disc two (59:46)

ACT THREE
1. O tu, che sei d'Osiride  (2:12)
2. Vieni d'Iside al tempio  (2:08)
3. Qui Radamès verrà!  (1:39)
4. O patria mia  (4:39)
5. Ciel! Mio padre!  (1:06)
6. Rivedrai le foreste imbalsamate  (1:32)
7. In armi ora si desta il popol nostro  (2:27)
8. Padre! A costoro schiava non sono  (2:10)
9. Pur ti riveggo, mia dolce Aïda  (1:20)
10. Nel fiero anelito di nuova guerra  (1:40)
11. Fuggiam Gli ardori inospiti  (3:46)
12. Aïda! - Tu non m'ami  (0:29)
13. Ah no! Fuggiamo!  (1:20)
14. Ma, dimmi  (2:05)
15. Traditor  (1:02)

ACT FOUR
16. L'abborrita rivale a me sfuggia  (1:22)
17. Io l'amo, io l'amo sempre!  (1:33)
18. Già i sacerdoti adunansi  (2:02)
19. Ah! Tu dei vivere!  (2:42)
20. Chi ti salva, sciagurato  (1:44)
21. Ohimé! Morir mi sento  (2:10)
22. Spirto del nume, sovra noi discendi!  (1:39)
23. Radamès! Radamès! Radamès!  (3:10)
24. A lui vivo la tomba!  (3:23)
25. La fatal pietra sovra me si chiuse  (2:11)
26. Presago il core della tua condanna  (2:07)
27. Vedi? Di morte l'angelo  (1:41)
28. O terra, addio  (4:27)

CAST

Aïda – Herva Nelli (soprano)
Amneris – Eva Gustavson (mezzo-soprano)
Radamès – Richard Tucker (tenor)
Amonasro – Giuseppe Valdegno (baritone)
Il Re (Pharoah) – Dennis Harbour (bass)
Ramfis – Norman Scott (bass)
Un Messagero – Virginio Assandri (tenor)
Sacerdotessa – Teresa Stich-Randall (soprano)

Robert Shaw Chorale
directed by Robert Shaw
NBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Arturo Toscanini

Live broadcast recordings, 26 March (Acts 1 & 2) & 2 April (Acts 3 & 4), 1949
Studio 8H, Radio City, New York

Ambient Stereo XR remastering by Andrew Rose
Front cover artwork: Arturo Toscanini conducting Aïda, an AI digital artwork by DALL-E 2

Total duration:  2hr 15:43

CREATIVE ‘AIDA’

Toscanini Shows How a Familiar Work Can Be Restored to Greatness

By OLIN DOWNES

PASSING his eighty-second birthday, Mr. Toscanini has afforded the audience of the nation, and we hope of even wider areas, a consummative example of interpretation in his broadcast performance in two parts of Verdi's “Aida,” completed yesterday afternoon in Radio City. Thanks enough can hardly be given the National Broadcasting Company which made such a performance available to every listener with a radio or television set at his disposal, wherever he might happen to be.

It is not this winter’s belief that any radio transmission can catch completely the innermost nuance or pulsation of such a performance, which is to be experienced completely only perhaps by those within actual earshot. Something is denatured in the transmission, to say nothing of the fact that it is still necessary, as we understand it—knowing nothing whatever of the technical process—to limit the sonorous range from very soft to very loud in any broadcasting. These limitations, though they lessen every year, do inhere in radio transmission.

Evocative Power

On the other hand, such is the power in the province of the art which we ourselves are incapable of regarding as anything but the supreme art of them all—the art of music—that the thought and emotion back of the notes responsible for their projection come through unmistakably. The listener must sense strongly the creative impulsion of such a Toscanini interpretation. Whatever the acoustical boundaries, if the listener is at all sensitive himself he is likely to "get it." He may not get the complete impression that he does if he sits in Studio 8H, but he will be caught in the evocative power of such a recreation of music.

And “re-creation" it is! We have the impression that Mr. Toscanini does not like this word, and we shall not be violating an inviolable confidence if we recall at this moment a sort of unspoken protest of some years ago which came to us from this selfless artist. We had used the word “re-creation," as we recall it, commenting upon one of his performances. A few hours later came an envelope containing a letter of Verdi on this subject.

It is such a simple but eloquent comment on that master’s part that a paragraph from it may not be amiss here. We avail ourselves here of the excellent translation of this letter by Edward Downes in the volume of letters selected by Franz Werfel and Paul Stefan and published by L. B. Fischer of New York. Verdi wrote Giulio Ricordi:

“As to conductors' inspiration *** to 'creative activity in every performance’ ***. That is a principle which forever inevitably leads to the baroque and untrue. It is precisely the path that led music to the baroque and untrue at the end of the last century and in the, first years of this, when singers made bold to 'create' (as the, French still say) their parts, and in consequence made a complete hash and contradiction of sense out of them. No: I want only one single creator and I shall be quite satisfied if they perform simply and exactly what he has written. I often read in the papers about effects that the composer never could have thought of; but for my part I have never found such a thing. I understand everything you say about Mariani; we are all agreed upon his merit. But it is not a question of a single performance, were he ever so eminent, it is a question of art itself. I deny that either singers or conductors can ‘create' or work creatively—this, as I have always said, is a conception that leads to the abyss."

A True “Aida”

Granted the truth of that principle. it nevertheless, in the ultimate of a master’s interpretation, becomes untrue! The writer believes that when he said a week ago of the first two acts of “Aida" that those who had not heard Toscanini conduct it had not heard “Aida,” he wrote the fact. And this does not mean at all that the performance reached unheard-of heights because of Toscanini's fabulous clarity and precision or dramatic temperament or orchestral command.

It is something that goes farther and is more consummative than all that; something that fuses together in one flaming unity all the elements of an art, adding those of the spirit to those of the mind and senses; something that releases the jewel of the artistic creation from the matrix of its conception in the composer’s consciousness; that sets the music in a free and supreme place of its very own, where it has no connection with or obligation to the source, even, of its existence.

That is the creative force which we are trying to define which is present in the greatest interpretations of Mr. Toscanini. Needless to say, he does not always achieve such a height. No artist could. The consummative may occur often enough in their work just to torment the greatest artists. But no oftener!

Artistic Conscience

A friend said to Toscanini recently, after his performance of the Beethoven “Pastoral" symphony: “The spirit of Beethoven is in you." Toscanini replied a little sadly: “Only sometimes.”

The wholly exceptional level of anything that he attempts is the result of his genius and his artistic conscience. But when the goal is reached, as certainly it has been in the “Aida” performances and in certain of the rehearsals, the achievement is not only evocative, it iscreative in the truest sense of the word.

It cannot be otherwise with an interpreter of the highest rank. It could not be, however greatly such an interpreter might desire to keep the performance on a purely objective level. Something has gone into the business which frees the music of every bond—even of the man who composed it, to say nothing of the interpreter.

But this is not done merely by a process of purification. By a sovereign act of intellectuality and imperious creative power the music has been put beyond the reach, one would almost say, of any outside power, on its throne. By a very act of supreme humanity, it has been set free of any human agency. The umbilical cord has been severed because of the creative release so selflessly and decisively achieved. And this triumph makes the listener aware, as he may not have been before, of the extent of music’s miracle.

The beauty of this supremely artistic process is the logic, the method, and construction which have brought it to accomplishment. A Toscanini performance is not accomplished by devices of magic. It begins with the most practical and energetic working out of every detail in the scre. The details of “Aida” happen to be numerous, if only in point of the great ensembles and the richness of detail in the instrumentation. Each of these details has in turn to be perfected and adjusted to the grand line of the reading—always the conductor's task.

Synthesis

Then comes the interpretive study and the vitalizing of every word of the text that the characters sing, as well as the transfiguration of the word by the tone, and the fitting together of the whole. In the synthesis of the performance one thrills to feel the brain of Toscanini, which is so powerful and aristocratic in its texture, summarizing the whole concept, and passionately vitalizing each element of it.

All this precedes the moment when the head of ice and the heart of fire become one precipitating force which fashions this music, with the power of the demon in it: the presence of something sublime, even terrifying, evoked from the invisible world by the spirit of man.

NEW YORK TIMES
Published: April 3, 1949