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Toscanini was an early champion of the music of Richard Strauss and he continued to conduct his works throughout his long career. The two men knew each other and met on more than one occasion. When Toscanini heard Strauss was working on an operatic version of Salome he corresponded with the composer about giving the Italian premiere. This eventually became a point of contention between the two men. Toscanini wished to give the Italian premiere at La Scala but Strauss had already signed a contract giving Turin the honour. This episode undoubtedly soured the relationship between them, and when Strauss accepted an offer to conduct at Bayreuth in 1933 after Toscanini had refused to return due to the festival’s Nazi ties, Toscanini allegedly said ‘To Strauss the composer I lift my hat, to Strauss the man I put it on again.’
In reality, Toscanini’s interest in Strauss as a composer was limited. He never conducted anything Strauss composed after Salome and when he attended the premiere of Arabella in Vienna in 1933 he described it as ‘wretched stuff.’ His love of Strauss’s earlier compositions remained, particularly his tone poems mostly composed in a prolific decade between 1888 and 1898, and demonstrates how Toscanini was able to separate music from composer. For his part, Strauss had a strong admiration for Toscanini as a conductor, once remarking to his assistant, George Szell, that after hearing Toscanini conduct he was inclined never to conduct himself again.
Strauss’s tone poems are rightly regarded as masterpieces of late Romantic music. Lushly orchestrated, the pieces are as long as some symphonies but each tells a specific story, using the orchestra in highly imaginative ways. The fluttering brass imitating bleating sheep in Don Quixote is just one obvious example of the way that Strauss could conjure a musical image for the listening audience.
This release features recordings of all the Strauss works that Toscanini conducted. Tod und Verklarung (Death and Transfiguration) was by far the most frequently performed and recorded, with no less than ten extant recordings, including a commercial one with the Philadelphia Orchestra (1942). The one chosen for this release is the middle one of Toscanini’s three NBCSO broadcasts to feature the work (1938, 1946 and 1952). Don Juan featured on four of Toscanini’s NBCSO broadcasts, as well as in one La Scala concert in 1949. The one included here is the earliest NBCSO performance, from 1939. Toscanini conducted Don Quixote three times with the NBCSO and in once with the BBCSO. Again, the one included here is the earliest NBCSO one, from 1938. The cello soloist in Don Quixote is Emanuel Feuermann, a Jewish émigré from Europe who had performed the piece with Toscanini in London in May 1938. There are also four examples of Toscanini conducting Till Eulenspiegel, all with the NBCSO, and this one is the second, from 1946. There are two extant recordings of Toscanini conducting the Dance of the Seven Veils from Salome, one with the NY Philharmonic and the second, heard here, with the NBCSO in 1939. Despite Ein Heldenleben being one of Toscanini’s regular concert pieces, there is only one extant recording of him conducting it, with the NBCSO in 1941.
TOSCANINI conducts Richard Strauss
Don Quixote, Op. 35
1. Introduction (5:24)
2. Theme (1:52)
3. Sancho Panza (2:20)
4. Variation 1 (1:33)
5. Variation 2 (3:34)
6. Variation 3 (3:53)
7. Variation 4 (1:56)
8. Variation 5 (4:14)
9. Variation 6 (1:10)
10. Variation 7 (0:50)
11. Variation 8 (1:47)
12. Variation 9 (0:57)
13. Variation 10 (3:53)
14. Finale (5:33)
Emanuel Feuermann, cello
Tod und Verklärung, Op. 24
15. I. Largo (5:07)
16. II. Allegro molto agitato (3:55)
17. III. Meno mosso, ma sempre alla breve (7:32)
18. IV. Moderato (7:25)
19. Salome, Op. 54 - Dance of the Seven Veils (10:15)
Ein Heldenleben, Op. 40
1. Der Held (3:59)
2. Des Helden Widersacher (3:25)
3. Des Helden Gefährtin (12:11)
4. Des Helden Walstatt (8:15)
5. Des Helden Friedenswerke (4:04)
6. Des Helden Weltflucht und Vollendung (10:39)
7. Don Juan, Op. 20 (17:08)
8. Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche, Op. 28 (13:56)
NBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Arturo Toscanini
XR remastering by Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Toscanini
Don Quixote: 22 October, 1938
Tod und Verklärung: 17 November, 1946
Salome Dance: 14 January, 1939
Ein Heldenleben: 1 February, 1941
Don Juan: 14 October, 1939
Till Eulenspiegel: 17 March, 1946
Total duration: 2hr 26:47
Fanfare magazine review
A priceless addition to both the Toscanini and Strauss discography, and yet another triumph for Andrew Rose and his Pristine crew
There is some extraordinary music-making here, full of color and imagination. As is pointed out in the terse program notes, Toscanini’s interest in the music of Strauss was limited, if intense. All of this material is early Strauss, and with the exception of the music from Salome, all tone poems. The men knew each other and admired one another—Strauss, who was himself an important conductor, revered Toscanini’s artistry. They split personally over politics, as Strauss became involved with the Nazi regime (Toscanini famously declared “to Strauss the composer I lift my hat, to Strauss the man I put it back on”).
Despite the historic nature of these mostly pre-World War II recordings, and despite my own life long enthusiasm for the work of Toscanini, this big, lush music is best served by the plethora of superb performances in bright, shiny modern sound. There are, nevertheless, a couple of stand-outs, and overall, this release is a treasure chest for admirers of both the composer and the conductor. Of chief interest for collectors here is the Don Quixote featuring the legendary and tragically short lived cellist Emanuel Feuermann (he died as a result of a botched surgery in 1942, at the age of 39). More so than almost any other recording of this wonderful work that I know, Toscanini makes the drama that inspires the music pop, with delightfully raucous sound emanating from the brass section in particular. Feuermann produces vibrant, focused tonality, but I find his patrician bearing somewhat out of place in this rather wild ride. I suppose one could argue that this reflects Cervantes’s vision of his gallant hero adrift in a hostile world, but musically I still prefer the more cohesive sound of the classic recording by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, with the under-rated Pierre Fournier as the glorious cello soloist.
Toscanini’s way with Till Eulenspiegel has long been my benchmark for this delightful score. Whenever I hear a new performance, I anticipate whether or not the musicians will express the subtle wit and frantic, and, paradoxically, controlled energy with some level of the attention to detail and sheer dramatic insight that Toscanini brought to this music. Many come close, but none exceed his vision. As has been frequently observed by Toscanini mavens, his pre-World War II recordings and his live recordings, whether with the nascent NBC Symphony Orchestra or with his guest appearances with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, feature an ease of presentation and spontaneity that seemed to ebb away from his post-war studio recordings, wherein, one supposes, there was both external and internal pressures to produce “definitive” versions of the great classics. Such is the case here; the well-worn 1955 recording is spectacular, and yet this live 1946 version allows just enough more elasticity to give the music that much more vivacity.
The rest of the program is equally engaging. Tod und Verklärung seems to be the most recorded Strauss work from Toscanini. In the realm of historical recordings, I am partial to the eerily beautiful Toscanini reading with the Philadelphia Orchestra, but I prefer to hear this music in superior sound reproduction, as well as Don Juan and Ein Heldenleben. Nonetheless, this is a priceless addition to both the Toscanini and Strauss discography, and yet another triumph for Andrew Rose and his Pristine crew. For those so inclined, this is a must-have.