TOSCANINI The 1939 Beethoven Cycle, Volume 1 (1939) - PASC552

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TOSCANINI The 1939 Beethoven Cycle, Volume 1 (1939) - PASC552

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BEETHOVEN Fidelio Overture
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 1
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 'Eroica'

Live broadcast recording, 1939
Total duration: 79:00

NBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Arturo Toscanini

This set contains the following albums:

On 28 October 1939, Arturo Toscanini took to the podium with his NBC Symphony Orchestra to begin what would be a unique series of six concerts: his only recorded Beethoven integral symphony cycle. Over six weekly concert broadcasts Toscanini would conduct all nine symphonies, roughly in order, together with various overtures, excerpts and other works, most interestingly the Choral Fantasy, Op. 80. This was coupled with the Ninth "Choral" Symphony in a special broadcast live from Carnegie Hall (the other concerts took place in his more usual radio studio venue), and constitutes the only recorded example of him conducting this work ever. Mortimer H. Frank suggests that Toscanini considered conducting the work again in 1952 in London but dropped the idea - he also suggests this may have been the only time Toscanini ever conducted the Choral Fantasy.

As with our recent issues of Toscanini conducting Russian music (PASC548) and the music of Richard Strauss (PASC549), I have been able to access source recordings of unprecedented quality, taken from acetate discs recorded directly by NBC and almost certainly not played since. For optimal sound quality this is crucial - the delicate surfaces of these discs are prone to immediate deterioration when played, especially when the weighty pick-ups in common use in the 1940s were used, resulting in distortion, higher background noise, and potential loss of high frequencies and other details. Previous issues have relied on Toscanini's own copies, discs which have seen considerable wear and use over the years.

The use of these new source discs translates directly into remarkable audio quality, with quiet backgrounds and a particularly wide frequency range - and sound quality that would have been considered excellent on a hi-fi era LP record from twenty or more years later. The use of the latest audio restoration technology brings with it rock-solid pitching, excellent tonal balance, and a clean, clear sound quality throughout. Small details shine through, with exquisite tonal shading that may previously have been overlooked can now clearly audible - take a listen to our example above and the subtle shading of the trumpets for the chords at 2:17, for example.

Each of the concert broadcasts ran for longer than was usual, and it has been necessary to trim some of the commentary from these recordings in order to fit each one onto a single CD release without cutting any of the music. The amount of speech editing will vary from release to release, but the intention is to preserve as much as possible the occasion as heard some 80 years ago - this is, we believe, the first time they have been presented as broadcast in this manner. Certainly they have never sounded as fresh and fine as this before.

Andrew Rose

TOSCANINI The 1939 Beethoven Cycle, Volume 1

1. RADIO Opening announcement  (0:33)
2. BEETHOVEN  Fidelio, Op. 72 - Overture  (7:19)

BEETHOVEN  Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21
3. 1st mvt. - Adagio molto – Allegro con brio  (8:04)
4. 2nd mvt. - Andante cantabile con moto  (6:20)
5. 3rd mvt. - Minuet. Allegro molto e vivace - Trio  (3:14)
6. 4th mvt. - Finale. Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace  (5:38)

7. RADIO Midway announcements  (1:05)

BEETHOVEN  Symphony No. 3 in E flat, Op. 55 "Eroica"
8. 1st mvt. - Allegro con brio  (13:50)
9. 2nd mvt. - Marcia funebre. Adagio assai  (16:21)
10. 3rd mvt. - Scherzo. Allegro vivace - Trio  (5:24)
11. 4th mvt. - Finale. Allegro molto  (10:36)

12. RADIO Closing announcement  (0:36)

NBC Symphony Orchestra   
conducted by Arturo Toscanini

XR remastering by Andrew Rose
Cover artwork based on a photograph of Toscanini

Broadcast of 28 October, 1939
NBC Studio 8H, Radio City, New York

Total duration:  79:00


He Leads the NBC Orchestra Here in the Initial Concert of Six-Week Festival


First Symphony in C Major and the 'Eroica' Are Also Presented at Recital

Mr. Toscanini conducted the first program of the "Beethoven Festival" of the NBC Symphony Orchestra last night in Radio City. He has seldom given a more impressive demonstration of his capacity to make very familiar music fall so freshly and significantly upon the senses and the mind that the hearer listens to something he has known from childhood with the emotion of unending discovery. We heard three staples of the symphonic repertory: the overture to "Fidelio"; the First symphony; the "Eroica" — these three, and one would say that within the dimensions of two minor works and one which is an ultimate of musical creation — the "Eroica" — he had traversed the immensities of art and the whole sublime trajectory of the spirit of Beethoven.

The smallest phrase, under such circumstances, communicates the sense of the entire work of which it is an integral part. Because it is ideally conveyed, in both its formal and emotional essence, it is hardly less in itself than the sum of all. And this holds true, whether the score be that of the less pretentious Beethoven, or the utterance of the matchless hero who produced the greatest symphony the world yet has known, the "Eroica." Everything in the concert was unforgettable. Everything, in a sense, was equal under the eyes of a man who is himself a hero of his art as well as a genius.

Played on Italian Model

At the same time, the special relation of the “Fidelio" overture to the opera whose name it bears was made clear as seldom before. It was played for just what it is: essentially an eighteenth century overture, on the Italian model (though enlarged by Beethoven's quality) and very much influenced by Cherubini, who, however, wrote some greater overtures on these lines for his own operas. What Mr. Toscanini accomplished was his customary revelation of musicianship and infallible intuition. He held the overture precisely and with an almost magical fidelity to its style and its spiritual proportions.

In so doing he accomplished a hundred felicities of interpretation and technique. The crescendo soon after the opening was a case in point, The woodwinds were quick to emerge from slight imprecisions of attack which men on the qui yive at the beginning of a concert, however seasoned, may find it hard to avoid; and it may be said here the woodwind section of this orchestra has developed amazingly in sensitivity as well as precision under Mr. Toscanini's guidance. The performance, a delight to the ear and understanding, was an epitome of the workmanship of the piece and the influence which had gone to its making.

Monument to the Master

In the same way, on a grander plane, and of course with much more contrast and variety of manner, was interpreted the youthful and wonderful First symphony. Its beauty and concision constitute in themselves a monument to the master who thus approached the task of the Michelangelo of the Nine. It is to be suspected that this early Beethoven symphony has a special place in Mr. Toscanini's heart. Or was it merely that with the overture it took the proper amount of time, and no more, in a concert that was to unfold the immensities of the "Eroica"? At any rate, the performance of the First symphony was now transfired song, and now a piece of both homophonic and polyphonic writing as chiselled and aristocratic in its exposition as though we were hearing the finest chamber music.

All this was well conceived prelude, in Beethoven's lighter vein, to the tragic heights of the "Eroica." The symphony said so much partly because the interpreter was as sparing of pseudo-dramatics or ostentatious gesture as the creator of the symphony himself. It was properly titanic thinking and feeling. If one movement was more eloquent than the others it was the funeral march, which perhaps was inevitable in a performance that so completely matched the quality of the music. The pace of the march never sagged; only in two or three places was there the slight variations of tempo, the stress of phrase, which made that accent and fluctuation so much more moving than a succession of such effects would have been.

Harmoniously Planned

But it would be illogical to say that any one part of the "Eroica" transcends another part in importance: the structure is too perfectly and harmoniously planned for that to be. The first movement is the noblest kind of plastic. Then one reflects: perhaps it is the finale which is most immeasurable and mysterious like infinity. What is the strangest and most potent passage in symphonic music? Probably the curious reiterated B-flats, as fateful as the knocking on the gate in "Macbeth," that set off the theme. Then follow the variations which are as the play of stars and planets!

Mr. Toscanini drove all that home, so that one was abashed in the presence of Beethoven's brooding spirit, and aware of this fateful time in the world, and the immutable eternities. To all of which, thus carved and hewn from invisibility, the "Eroica" seemed the one and only answer.

Olin Downes
New York Times
29 October 1939