CANTELLI NBC Concert No. 30: Schubert, Britten, Wagner (1953) - PASC169

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CANTELLI NBC Concert No. 30: Schubert, Britten, Wagner (1953) - PASC169

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SCHUBERT Symphony No. 8, 'Unfinished'
BRITTEN Sinfonia da Requiem
WAGNER Rienzi - Overture
Recorded 1953
Total duration: 54:21

NBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Guido Cantelli

This set contains the following albums:

Cantelli's excellent and rare Britten 'Sinfonia da Requiem'

Plus possibly his finest Schubert 'Unfinished' - all sounding superb


Keith Bennett, whose new book Guido Cantelli - Just Eight Years Of Fame is published to co-incide with this series, was my introduction to the short-lived musical world of Guido Cantelli. His ceaseless championing of Cantelli has resulted in a number of releases on various record labels including Pristine, and it's now an immense pleasure to be able to delve into Keith's extensive and meticulously- maintained collection of rare taped recordings for this new series of issues.

Each one will take the music from a complete concert broadcast by NBC from Carnegie Hall in the early-to-mid 1950s, with the NBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Cantelli. Sonically these are a huge improvement over the many concerts the orchestra gave in NBC Studio 8H under Toscanini, Cantelli and others - the Hall's acoustics are of course excellent, and as listeners we also benefit from ever-improving microphone and recording technologies.

In remastering I've dealt with the inevitable tape hiss, and also some mild tonal imbalances characteristic of older recordings - XR remastering identifies and remedies many of the imperfections of older microphones. I've also worked to reduce or remove a number of audience coughs and sneezes, using the latest digital spectral repair technology to avoid damage to the musical content. The result is a fine-sounding representation of Cantelli in concert - clear and full-bodied, brilliantly conveying Cantelli and the orchestra's attention to both fine detail and overall musical impression.

Andrew Rose

  • SCHUBERT - Symphony 8, 'Unfinished' in B minor, D759
  • BRITTEN - Sinfonia da Requiem, Op. 20
  • WAGNER - Rienzi - Overture

NBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Guido Cantelli

Carnegie Hall, New York,
Saturday 3rd January, 1953

Transfer tape from the collection of Keith Bennett
Transfer and XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, June 2009
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Guido Cantelli

Total duration: 54:21

Cantell's NBC Concert No. 30 - 3rd January 1953

notes by Keith Bennett

Guido Cantelli gave 40 concerts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra which was more than any other conductor apart from his mentor Arturo Toscanini.

Schubert: Symphony in B minor, No.8, D.759, Unfinished

What hits the researcher time after time is the very few occasions that Cantelli actually conducted standard works of the orchestral repertoire and here is a typical example. The young conductor performed the ‘complete’ Schubert Unfinished in concert just four times (the reason for remarking on ‘complete’ is that Cantelli conducted only the first movement in two concerts with the Orchestra Novarese in 1944) and this was his last public performance. His next work on the symphony was when he made his commercial recording (one of his few in stereo) in August 1955.

The writer’s view is that this broadcast performance is unquestionally the finer. The two movements are marked Allegro moderato and Andante con moto. Cantelli, as far as is known, never included the exposition repeat in the first movement in his few public performances and it certainly is not present in the commercial recording.

As can be seen in the following table there is barely any difference in Cantelli’s approach between his broadcast performance and the commercial recording of the first movement but that is not the case with the second which he took very much slower in 1955


1st Mvt

2nd Mvt

NBC SymphonyOrchestra



Philharmonia Orchestra



 The commercial recording is, of course, refined but it is as if the con moto is missing and we are left just with an Andante and in this respect the performance with the NBC Symphony Orchestra is the better even if it is monaural while the studio recording is stereo.


Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem

However, the significance of this concert is that it preserves a performance of the only work that Cantelli conducted by an English composer. And what a performance! Cantelli’s first two performances of the Sinfonia da Requiem were with the Orchestra della Scala in June 1952 and this was followed six months later with this performance with the NBC Symphony Orchestra: his final three performances were with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York (which had given the première) on 22, 23 and 24 March 1956. Note that even though the music of Britten was being regularly played in the United Kingdom Cantelli never conducted this work with the Philharmonia Orchestra: just why is difficult to fathom. Was the concert impresario afraid that it would have a detrimental effect on ticket sales? This was hardly likely as Cantelli’s concerts were invariably sold out. Coincidentally, it was with the (New) Philharmonia Orchestra that Britten made his second recording in December 1964.

Britten had been commissioned by the Japanese Government to compose a work to celebrate the 2600th anniversary of the Japanese Empire. Not surprisingly, the composition (which was dedicated to the memory of Britten’s parents) was not considered to be celebratory and was rejected but Britten, who was living in America at the time, was allowed to retain the commission which he (had already) spent on a Model T Ford. Barbirolli and the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York gave the première of the Sinfonia da Requiem on 29 March 1941. Britten considered at the time that “it was given very well”. In the following October the composer met Serge Koussevitsky who had been sent a score by the publishers since he was interested in giving a performance with his Boston Symphony Orchestra. Britten sent him the Barbirolli recording (taken from the second performance on 30 March and obviously an inferior air check) but also pointed out that he now found ‘some of the speeds unsatisfactory – the first and last movements being too slow, and a bad slow up in the middle of the 2nd movement.’ The first Koussevitsky performances took place on 2nd and 3rd January 1942 in Boston and there were further performances in New York in February. It was at this time that Koussevitsky commissioned an opera from Britten – which was, of course, Peter Grimes!

The Sinfonia da Requiem was the first orchestral work of Britten’s to achieve international recognition and it was interesting to discover that Celibidache was playing the work during his tenure with the Berliner Philharmoniker. Cantelli’s performance is remarkably similar to the Britten.

Barbirolli/Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York

30 March 1941


Britten/New Philharmonia Orchestra

17 & 18 December 1964


Cantelli/NBC Symphony Orchestra

3 January 1953


As indicated above this was only the third time that Cantelli had programmed the work but it is already clear that he had a better grasp of the musical content than Barbirolli.

Wagner: Overture Rienzi

For the final work in this concert Cantelli conducted Wagner’s overture to Rienzi. Unlike the previous compositions in this programme this was  a core work and was included in 30 of Cantelli’s concerts, the first being on 11 April 1946 and the last 31 January 1954.

Cantelli obviously had a penchant for the overture (he conducted it more often than any other Wagner composition in his repertory and gave three performances with the NBC Symphony Orchestra,  only that of 1954 not appearing on CD – as at March 2008 – although it was included in the Cantelli Legacy LPs issued by the Arturo Toscanini Society. Curiously enough, during all the years that Toscanini worked in America he only once programmed this piece

Szell recorded this overture twice but both his well-recorded performances are marred by inapt rallentandi. This Cantelli performance – possibly his best – is well enough played but, as usual, when one comes to consider the performance by Toscanini one is made aware for the umpteenth time of myriad details of a score – and do not forget that this was his sole performance while in the USA – which others miss. Was it not Malcolm Sargent who remarked to his companion at a pre-war rehearsal in the Queen’s Hall with some puzzlement ‘He doesn’t do anything’: but he does, and no mistake! In Rienzi he ensures that the strings are playing (and that the listener is made aware of) the fortissimo at bar 50 and 51 onwards: later in bar 68 he emphasizes the rising figure of quavers (eighth notes) without resorting to a rallentando as Szell does. He does this sort of thing time and time again and the miracle is that the details do not impinge on the concept as a whole. The overture may usually be considered to be a rough and tumble affair but not with Toscanini: one should be grateful that the performance was officially issued in the series ‘Great Conductors of the Twentieth Century’.

© Keith Bennett 2009


Keith Bennett is the author of Guido Cantelli – Just Eight Years of Fame (published 2009) which is only available from GC Publishers. For further details either write to GC Publishers, 21 Nunn Close, Martlesham, Woodbridge, Suffolk IP12 4UL, UK or e-mail

Fanfare Review

Here is yet another treasure trove of Cantelli material

[excerpt from review round-up of Pristine's Cantelli]

The remaining three discs are each devoted to complete Cantelli broadcasts—his 19th, 30th, and 31st appearances with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The symphonies therein represented—the Brahms Third, Schubert “Unfinished” (a typographical error on the cover gives the key as A Minor rather than B Minor), and Tchaikovsky “Pathétique”—were all recorded commercially by Cantelli with the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1953, 1955, and 1952, respectively. The wonderfully textured live concert performance of the Brahms is, well, more alive than the still beautiful studio recording; the live Schubert is likewise preferable to the studio account, particularly in the broadcast performance’s more forward-pressing second movement; and the Tchaikovsky, given the live context, ultimately, and perhaps necessarily, feels more exciting, deeply probing, and better integrated than the very fine studio account, which was recorded over the course of five days.

The performances of the Wagner and Rossini overtures are both gripping and exciting; each of these works also exists in other Cantelli-led accounts, including a 1949 commercial recording of the Rossini with the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, and a 1949 NBC broadcast of Rienzi that is less well controlled and integrated than the present 1953 broadcast. Roussel’s Sinfonietta for string orchestra and Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem represent works that received hardly any performances under Cantelli’s baton; each is the conductor’s sole preserved account. His only other performance of the Roussel was in 1946, with the Orchestra da Camera in Milan. Besides this 1953 Sinfonia da Requiem broadcast—an intensely dramatic and probing account that makes one wish he’d had time to lead more of Britten’s music—he also led the work in 1952 with the La Scala Orchestra and in 1956 with the New York Philharmonic. (An aside: though seemingly unavailable as I write, another 20th-century work particularly worth seeking in its sole Cantelli recording—in fact his only performance of it, from a 1953 NBC broadcast—is Barber’s School for Scandal Overture, a non-traditionally spacious, individual rendition that nevertheless proves convincing, meaningful, and important.) Berlioz’s “Rákóczi March” figured in Cantelli’s repertoire mainly as an encore piece; this, his only preserved performance, actually comes across better in its cleaner, less congested Music & Arts transfer (perhaps a function of the source material)—the only instance where I found Pristine’s version not at least equal to, or better than, earlier releases. For instance, I heard no meaningful difference when comparing the Brahms Symphony No. 3 on Pristine to the same performance as heard in the aforementioned 12-disc Music & Arts set.

So, in sum, here is yet another treasure trove of Cantelli material that should surely be of interest to those already initiated, as well as (one can always hope) to anyone not yet familiar with the conductor’s work. All of Pristine’s releases are available either as downloads or CDs via Pristine’s Web site, Finally, let me again mention Keith Bennett’s Guido Cantelli: Just Eight Years of Fame, which is now the prime source for detailed information on Cantelli’s concerts and recordings, with much else about his life besides. (For further info on that, e-mail It doesn’t come cheap, but its value to collectors is not to be questioned. And drawing upon his work for that book, Bennett is now providing the notes for Pristine’s latest Cantelli releases, including, of those discussed here, the conductor’s 19th, 30th, and 31st NBC concerts and Mozart Requiem.

Marc Mandel

This article originally appeared in Issue 33:3 (Jan/Feb 2010) of Fanfare Magazine.