TOSCANINI conducts BRAHMS Complete Symphonies (1951/52) - PASC349

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TOSCANINI conducts BRAHMS Complete Symphonies (1951/52) - PASC349

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BRAHMS Symphony No. 1
BRAHMS Symphony No. 2
BRAHMS Symphony No. 3
BRAHMS Symphony No. 4
Recorded in 1951 and 1952

Total duration: 2hr 36:17

NBC Symphony Orchestra
Arturo Toscanini,

This set contains the following albums:

Toscanini's "ardent, blazing performances" of the complete Brahms Symphonies

New XR remasters have completely revitalised the sound of these masterworks

It comes as no surprise to find Toscanini's studio LP recordings of Brahms' four symphonies still in RCA's catalogue. Alas the sound quality , whilst adequate for the first two symphonies, slips dramatically for the Third and Fourth, and all have anomalies throughout. This remastering aims to set the balance straight, to raise first the sound quality of Symphonies 1 and 2, and then to bring Symphonies 3 and 4 up to this same new standard. Careful application of the XR remastering system has achieved this and more - Toscanini's magnificent recordings of the Brahms symphonic canon have never sounded as wonderful as this!

I've also been able to fix some pitch anomalies, most acute in the Third Symphony, where both the second half of the 1st movement and the entire finale were considerably sharp.

Andrew Rose

  • BRAHMS Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68
  • BRAHMS Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 73
  • BRAHMS Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90
  • BRAHMS Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98

    NBC Symphony Orchestra
    Arturo Toscanini conductor

    Recorded at Carnegie Hall, New York City

    Symphony No. 1

    Recorded 6 November 1951 
    First issued as RCA LM-1702

    Symphony No. 2
    Recorded 11 February 1952 
    First issued as RCA LM-1731

    Symphony No. 3 
    Recorded 4 November 1952 
    First issued as RCA LM-1836

    Symphony No. 4 
    Recorded 3 December 1951 
    First issued as RCA LM-1713

XR remastering by Andrew Rose at Pristine Audio, June 2012
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Brahms

Total duration: 2hr 36:17

REVIEW - complete Brahms Symphonies

The reappearance of Toscanini's recordings of all the Brahms symphonies on the R.C.A. label is a most welcome event, for they should never be unavailable. As commercial ramifications are the only reason for their ever being off the market I had intended to give them what I believe is called in book circles a "reviewer's reading", a skim through. But, started on the first, I could not leave these ardent, blazing performances alone. They are wonderful and it is certain that, whatever the claims of other conductors, no Brahms lover should be without these. On their new label they sound very well and one need not fear the unpleasant sound associated with many Toscanini recordings, only the 3rd being less good...

T.H. The Gramophone, May 1959 (Reviewing R.C.A. RB16097-16100, LP reissues, excerpt)


REVIEW - Symphonies 1 & 2

As a second-best for those unable to hear Toscanini's "live" performances of the Brahms symphonies in the Royal Festival Hall, which will have taken place by the time these words appear—and as a permanent reminder for the fortunate others—these records should have a considerable appeal. When they were made I do not know, but despite the great man's advancing years they are as full of fire and finesse as ever. (I am irresistibly reminded of Widor, at the age of nearly ninety, ripping his way through the finale of his Fifth Symphony for H.M.V.). The meticulous care over every detail, the beautiful phrasing and the breadth of line, the rhythmic bite, are hallmarks of the master. It has been claimed that, as an Italian, Toscanini is not the ideal interpreter of Brahms' typically Teutonic genius; but the Second Symphony elicits from him a perfectly appropriate lyricism, and there is not the smallest suggestion of stylistic impropriety in the more virile First. Besides, remembering Furtwängler's wilful exaggerations, is the German spirit necessarily more en rapport? There are, needless to say, none of these distortions here, but instead a choice of tempi which is made to seem inevitable: I would draw attention to the perfect tempo-transitions in the third movement of No. 2. The "bell-chime" horn tune and the trombones' chorale-like passage in the finale of No. 1 are taken slower than usual, and later in the movement the speeds do vary somewhat, but there is the evidence of Brahms' markings to justify this. In the orchestra's playing there is much of great beauty—I instance the glowing 'cello tone in the Adagio of No. 2 and the truly sotto voce quality of the start of the finale; and indeed the only real flaw I can find anywhere is the out-of-tune held A on trumpet and horn at the close of the first movement of the same symphony. Students of Brahms' scores will notice with interest that in No. 1 Toscanini suppresses the viola-and-timpani triplets at the two breakoffs a couple of dozen bars before the end.

On the technical side these issues are less satisfactory, though never enough seriously to detract from appreciation of the music. The worst fault for me is the extremely sharp pitch at which both works are recorded—I cannot get used to a Brahms' symphony in D sharp—but others without perfect pitch may not be worried by this. I suspect, however, that the consequent increase in speed may be partly responsible for the metallic tone of the strings (the wood-wind suffer less). The quality in general is rather coarse and thick, particularly in forte sections (e.g., in the Allegretto of No. 1 and the finale of No. 2); and the engineers seem to have been reluctant to allow a true p or pp level: the solo violin in the Andante of the First Symphony has been unduly amplified. In the SP version of No. 2 there is an overlap of four bars on the change-over from side 1 to side 2, and of three bars from side 7 to side 8; and in the first movement of No. 1 the gap between sides 2 and 3 comes just at that dramatic change of harmony between the chords of G7 and the 6-4 of B minor, so that Brahms' effect is lost. In these regards, at any rate, the LP issue which is promised is bound to be an improvement.

L.S. The Gramophone, October 1952 (Reviewing HMV 78rpm issues)

MusicWeb International Review

There is a massive exuberance, following the pattern we have seen in Toscanini’s love-affair with Brahms

The best news here is that as well as illuminating the sound in general, Pristine engineer Andrew Rose has been able to enhance the previously inferior sound for the Third and Fourth symphonies so that it matches that of the first two. Their better recorded sound explains why the First and Second Symphonies have long been available and very recommendable to anyone tolerant of mono. Now all four symphonies have some air around them, the glare and harshness tamed and erratic pitch corrected. They are still no aural feast but as with the Pristine re-mastering of Furtwängler’s Brahms from the 1940s and 1950s, the obvious performances for purposes of comparison, a new depth and spaciousness have been revealed and the listener’s enjoyment of the very different approach to Brahms by both maestros has been enormously enhanced. 

Furtwängler’s interpretation is generally much warmer and more Romantic than Toscanini’s but there is certainly no lack of feeling in the latter’s Andantes and Adagios, even though he is on average some two minutes faster than Furtwängler. However, the default position criticism of Toscanini - “he conducts everything at breakneck speed” - hardly applies here, even if it is true that he takes the opening to the First faster than any other conductor I know. As is often the case when re-encountering Toscanini after listening to more modern or later accounts of Brahms symphonies by Abbado and Karajan, my first thoughts were that he was rather perfunctory and unyielding - but the ear soon adjusts to what he is about. Once the second subject of the magical Andante second movement in the First Symphony spirals heavenward on soaring strings, you know that you are safe in the hands of a master Brahms interpreter. It is possible to miss the depth of sound we enjoy in those more recent recordings but Toscanini's insistence upon individual instrumental lines emerging clearly pays dividends; one hears harmonic details and nuances you do not always catch in warmer, stereo sound. He is never speedy for its own sake; his direction is always taut and purposeful, his frequent use of ritenuto judicious and his phrasing sublime: the dotted second subject in the Andante sostenuto in the First Symphony really sings, helped by the sweetness of the solo by the NBC’s first violinist and the sonority of the contribution of the principal horn. There is often a kind of febrile joy in Toscanini's music-making which sweeps the listener along; thus the Scherzo is breathless but exhilarating - more "allegro" than a true "allegretto" - but it works. Not that Toscanini cannot plumb the depths; there is a brooding majesty to the Adagio opening of the fourth movement, as a bemired C minor struggles to emerge into the sunlit uplands of C major via those plangent horn and flute solos and the Big Tune builds massively to an explosive finale which is simply glorious with its uplifting, climactic chorale.
Probably recognising Brahms’ reference to his symphony no.2 as “elegiac and melancholy” as another of the sardonic composer’s little ironic jokes, Toscanini eschews the dragginess which afflicts recordings by such as Giulini and refuses to linger. He does not replicate the fluidity that Karajan achieves, or the melodramatic “Sturm und Drang” approach of Furtwängler, or the dark warmth of Klemperer but, surprisingly, instead, aims for charm, again phrasing gorgeously, catching Brahms’ Alpine holiday mood. The finale is a little breathless and frenetic but Toscanini relaxes for the second variation and eventually steers us home in the most exhilarating fashion imaginable without adopting an especially fast tempo.
The Third is in many ways the most straightforward of Brahms’ symphonies and elicits the most relaxed of Toscanini’s interpretations. He brings a confident swing to the frequent, swaying three-quarter-time rhythms which run throughout this symphony. Toscanini maintains a gentle pulse, moving inexorably towards a grand finale which is another of Brahms’ trademarks. The Andante finds Toscanini at his most genial, hence he is even slower than Furtwängler, Levine, Abbado and van Zweden. Then in the finale all that restraint is thrown aside for a rip-roaring Allegro before the return to serenity.
“Relaxed” is not the first word we usually apply to this conductor, but the Fourth again finds him effortlessly synthesising the plethora of ideas based around the interval of a third that flood this most musically fertile of Brahms’ symphonies. There is a massive exuberance about the conclusion, following the pattern we have seen in Toscanini’s love-affair with Brahms. Technically, there are some problems in the synchronisation between the violins and the rest of the orchestra, symptomatic of the sense of urgency characteristic of Toscanini’s typical forward momentum. 

Ralph Moore