Reviews for Toscanini Philharmonic concerts 1936 (IPCD 1002-2)
PHILHARMONIC-SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA OF NEW YORK
Two Complete Concerts
1 March 1936
23 February 1936
Historically important with many bonus tracks
In 1933 much changed in the musical life of Germany as a result of Hitler’s rise to power: many of our Jewish citizens were soon chased past our borders and from their positions. Shortly after March 5, 1933, Rudolf Serkin was called an undesirable artist and his concerts cancelled. He left Germany and first immigrated to Switzerland where his father-in-law Adolf Busch was also living. In protest against German politics, Toscanini cancelled his participation at the Bayreuth Festival. Busch, Serkin and Toscanini immigrated with their families to the United States. Toscanini had already been conducting the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra – today’s New York Philharmonic. Serkin made his debut with that orchestra on February 23, 1936. Concerning the political implications of the time we are not informed in the extensive and highly interesting booklet which describes in detail Toscanini’s work with this orchestra (in 1937 he changed over to the NBC Symphony) as well as source material of both concerts (such as problematic gaps in the recording material which Richard Caniell commendably restored).
The concert of February 23 is no doubt the more important of the two – the first half consisted of Beethoven’s First Symphony and 4th Piano Concerto - the second half was Mozart’s last piano concerto and Bach’s famous Toccata and Fugue in d-minor in Henry Woods’ orchestration. On the double CD, the Concertos are on the second CD so that the disc closes with impressive effect. Toscanini presents Beethoven’s First symphony in a tension-filled, lively fashion – its impact optimized by a substantial gap in the second movement being filled by another Toscanini recording. Also in the two piano concerti brilliantly played by Serkin, recording gaps were filled. Without a doubt, Serkin was one of the truly great – his interpretations are full of charm and spirit, depth and self-understood virtuosity. Serkin’s and Toscanini’s Mozart sparkles with warmth and sunshine, refinement, poetry and nobility. The concluding Bach arrangement is quite different from that of Leopold Stokowski’s (which did not yet exist then) –rougher, more expressive – presented by Toscanini and the orchestra with breathtaking intensity, in a late romantic-expressionistic style. Comparably, the new studio production led by Barry Wordsworth (Lyrita) is truly tame in every respect.
The concert recorded live a week later on March 1st, 1936, is in comparison to the other concert a “mixed bag,” – a mixture of excerpts from opera and the concert stage. It opened with the “Freischütz” overture played lively and full of tension as almost always with Toscanini – followed by “Ritorna Vincitor” (Aida) with Dusolina Giannini as soloist. Giannini’s expressivity is enormous in comparison with many of today’s exponents of this role. One wonders what “singing housewives” (Edda Moser) venture to try this role nowadays… Giannini gives her all and sings as if her life depended on it – making clear that Aida was the opera to be followed by ‘Otello’ (even though a few years later). One gets the strong impression that Toscanini hums along on occasion (a characteristic which in late recordings one is able to hear from Serkin at times). This is followed by Camille Saint-Saens ‘Danse macabre’ (soloist is concertmaster Michel Piastro) in a surprising this-worldly deliberate performance which only toward its end intensifies; we are used to far different, more “magical” interpretations by Charles Dutoit, Pierre Dervaux or Louis Frémaux. Quite a different caliber is Debussy’s “Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune” full of ingenious sound values which with its historic sound background are not only unimpaired but positively intensified. Probably Debussy is the musical center of this concert even though here too Toscanini is again humming along.
The third movement (“Serenade”) of Karl Goldmark’s “Country Wedding” symphony suffers as far as the music – not the interpretation – is concerned – but still, it is interesting to see what kind of “palmal” was possible in concert programs in the past ! (For just that reason the two piano Lieder presented in the intermission should have been included in the recording – they would have had greater information value than in the radio commentaries which interrupt the musical flow). The concert ended with the Prelude to "Lohengrin’s" 3rd act in an interpretation reminding me in their brilliant vivacity of Jevgenij Maravinskij.
The immediacy of the sound, the all around sound spectrum and the lively atmosphere prove once more that Richard Caniell is a master of his profession – his audio restoration is exemplary even though one has to first get used to the disturbing noises which, however, could not have been filtered out without a loss of atmosphere. As previously said I do not adhere to the trend that the original radio commentaries are necessary (based on negative experiences I have had at present-day concerts). But this is a matter of taste and one thing is clear: that at least in the one concert we are dealing with a historically significant event. The other concert – well, it is – no question - historically interesting but perhaps not necessarily historically valuable – possibly a bonus track of the other concerts. And for that reason both CDs are absolutely worthwhile.
Dr. Jürgen Schaarwächter
9 January 2010
PHILHARMONIC-SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA OF NEW YORK
TWO COMPLETE CONCERTS
Arturo Toscanini, cond; Rudolf Serkin (pn); Dusolina Giannini (sop); NY P-SO
Broadcast: New York 2/23/1936; 3/1/1936
IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1002 (2 CDs: 141:08)
Immortal Performances by Nigel Simone
This Canadian historical series generally lives up to its name and is notable for the care and imagination with which its releases are prepared and presented. Some earlier releases were put out on other labels, but the four sets here are part of the first release of the newly established Immortal Performances label.
More Toscanini comes on a set that includes two complete concerts from 1936 in the first of which Rudolf Serkin appears as the soloist, making his American debut. The orchestra is the New York Philharmonic-Symphony. It's as well to deal with the main problem straight¬away: the sound of these recordings is occasionally grim and it takes some acclimatization. Having said that, no Toscanini admirer will begrudge the effort. The listening experience here is clearly preferable to that of some earlier pirate issues, thanks to the discovery of some hitherto unknown 16-inch discs of the concerts, recorded by a very competent amateur. Thus on this precious set, we now have two complete concerts from February 23rd and March 1st, 1936.
The first of them begins with a thrilling account of Beethoven's First Symphony, notable for its irrepressible vigour and vibrancy. This is followed by the two concertos: Beethoven's Fourth and Mozart's last, K595. That Serkin and Toscanini worked extremely well together is already apparent from their later recording of the Beethoven Fourth, but this live account is a joy, even if the sound is often primitive. Serkin's effortless authority at the piano is mirrored by Toscanini at his most attentive - it's very moving to listen to these two great artists live and on such superb form. The Mozart is perhaps even more interesting. Serkin was a great Mozartian, as was Toscanini (though he made too few recordings of Mozart). Their performance of K595 is therefore very valuable, and it's superbly stylish: rather 'modern' in feel, with bright, forward woodwind and strongly propulsive rhythms. This concert ended with Toscanini conducting Henry Wood's orchestration of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor.
The second concert, from a week later, is a mixed programme, opening with the Overture to Der Freischutz by Weber (notable for some lovely, atmospheric playing in the slow introduction), 'Ritorna vincitor' from Verdi's Aida sung by Dusolina Giannini, and a group of popular orchestral works: Danse macabre by Saint-Saens, a movement from the Rustic Wedding Symphony by Goldmark, the Prelude a l'apre-midi d'un faune by Debussy, and the Prelude to Act 3 of Wagner's Lohengrin . There are several gaps in the recording of the earlier concert - the result of having to turn over or replace the discs but the necessary filling from other performances has been done with care, and these interpolations are scrupulously noted in the detailed and interesting booklet. This set will be of great interest to Toscanini collectors, despite the unavoidable technical shortcomings.
International Record Review