Reviews for IPCD 1009-2
NBC Symphony Orchestra
4 March 1938
Milanov, Kullman, Castagna, Moscona, Westminster Choir
Benefit Concert - Carnegie Hall
All-Verdi NBC Concert, 31 January 1943
La Forza del destino: Overture
Nabucco: Chorus of Hebrew Slaves
I Lombardi: Act III: Prelude; Qui pos il fianco
La Traviata: Act III Prelude
Otello: Ballet Music
Hymn of the Nations
Peerce, Della Chiesa, Moscona / chorus
Two Complete Concerts
IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES IPCD 1009-2, mono (2 CDs: 141: 30) Live: 11938, 21943
July / August 2011
The 1938 Requiem is Toscanini’s first NBC performance of the work, recorded under notoriously problematic conditions, via telephone lines from Carnegie Hall to NBC’s studios. Previous releases (most recently on an Archipel CD) have been fatally plagued by phone-line interference, ruinously high noise levels, and chronic pitch instability. Richard Caniell’s new restoration uses a far superior source from the collection of Richard Gardner, Toscanini’s favorite recording engineer from his RCA days. A few intractably rough patches necessitated brief substitutions from the 1938 BBC and 1940 NBC performances (only really noticeable once, at Rehearsal 53 ff. of the Dies irae), and there is a disconcerting “honking” turntable noise in the latter part of the Quid Sum Miser; but overall the fruits of Caniell’s labors are nothing short of revelatory, the general sound often excellent for its time, in range and detail (Dies irae; Rex Tremendae; Lacrymosa etc.).
The 1938 performance has a special keenness, edge, and freshness that set it apart from the sometimes slightly more polished later NBC versions of 1940 (Music & Arts or Pristine), 1948 (Music & Arts), and 1951 (RCA or Opus Kura). The occasional orchestral insecurity (e.g., an early oboe entry in the Lacrymosa) reminds us that this was its first season with Toscanini. But such trivial imperfections pale beside the countless felicities on offer—a staggering hair-trigger responsiveness, from the delicately soloistic shaping of the first-violin line in the connecting passage from the Dies irae to the Lacrymosa, to the inimitably Italian character of tangy throatiness Toscanini draws from the quiet B-flat-Major brass chords at the end of the Lacrymosa and Lux Aeterna. On a general level, the interpretation as a whole has all the features familiar from Toscanini’s other versions: the up-tempo clarity of the Requiem Aeternam; the flexible unhurried tread and grandeur of the Kyrie; the controlled ferocity of the Dies Irae; and the supreme elegance of the long line in the Offertorium.
As for the solo quartet, Milanov’s performance is the freshest-voiced of her three versions with Toscanini in 1938 (NBC and BBC) and 1940 (NBC), in suppleness, concentration of line, and dramatic responsiveness (“Salva me”; Libera me). Her dynamic control is breathtaking in such passages as “sed signifer sanctus Michael” from the Offertorium (crescendo on E-sharp, to subito ppp on E-flat) and the late return of the Requiem aeternam in B-flat-Minor—pp, ppp, pppp, ending on high B-flat! Castagna sings with superb technical command (no scooping in the Liber Scriptus!) and concentrated richness of tone in her low register. The two women make a veritable dream team, the way they “sing off” one another in their duets (Recordare; Agnus Dei).
The men are hardly less impressive. This is Kullman’s only preserved performance of the work with Toscanini, and it is a memorable one, of great technical accuracy, refinement, and a gorgeous lyricism in the Ingemisco and Hostias (though no trills in the latter). Moscona, who replaced Pinza at short notice, is clean and incisive, occasionally slightly fallible in his bass underpinning of the chromatic a cappella passages of the Pie Jesu and Lux Aeterna. The chorus members respond to Toscanini as if their lives depended on it—the Sanctus and Libera me fugue have a lean, hungry quality, both taken at Toscanini’s fastest recorded tempos (though in general the tempos are no quicker than in his other versions).
The all-Verdi concert from 1943 is much more than a mere bonus offering; indeed, I’d be tempted to use this concert to persuade any doubters of Toscanini’s status as the greatest conductor of Verdi in recorded history. I have the excerpts from Nabucco and I Lombardi on RCA and Opus Kura; some other items may have appeared on other labels, but this seems to be the first release of the complete concert, and in superbly smooth, realistic sound. The minutely flexible tautness of line (La Forza overture, Traviata prelude, introduction to the Nabucco chorus); the orchestra’s incredibly fine-tuned virtuoso response as a single instrument; in general, the total identification of the interpreter with the idiomatic style of the composer: These are truly the stuff of legends. The solo trio (I Lombardi) combines high technical discipline with thrilling dramatic abandon; the chorus (Nabucco) is extraordinarily responsive to Toscanini’s minutely nuanced yet powerfully sweeping shaping of the melodic line. The sense of occasion is palpable, with the audience spontaneously erupting at the conclusion of the Hymn of the Nations (complete with appended Star-Spangled Banner). Simply unforgettable, and it will now be a tall order indeed for any usurper to dislodge this from my next Want List.
VERDI: Requiem; NBC Broadcast Concert, 4 March 1938
Zinka Milanov, Charles Kullman, Bruna Castagna, Nikola Moscona; Schola Cantorum Chorus; Jan Peerce, Vivian della Chiesa, Nikola Moscona; NBC Symphony & Choruses / Toscanini
"The finest performance of the work I've ever heard."
American Record Guide
This two-disc set offers a smorgasbord of Verdi as performed by Toscanini with Met soloists in 1938 for the Requiem and, for the other items in 1943, in the darkest days of WW II. The Requiem as usually played now comes across as very operatic, with large orchestral and choral forces, played to the hilt, a noisy and theatrical work, with frequent thunderous percussion intrusions-POW! POW! POW! POW! I suspected Toscanini would carry this tradition to new heights, but was astonished to find a relatively quiet and restrained reading, one that suppresses all the operatic mannerisms and noisy intrusions and ends up about the finest performance of the work I've ever heard. The soloists and chorus are quite good, and the result is thrilling. The sound is satisfactory, though it's 70 years old.
The other items, derived from a 1943 broadcast, include the Forza del Destino Overture; the Chorus of Slaves from Nabucco, Act III; the Act III Prelude and trio, Qui posa il flanco, from I Lombardi, Act III; the Prelude to Act III of Traviata; the ballet music from Otello, Act III; and the 'Hymn of the Nations'. These performances, particularly the orchestral preludes as conducted by Toscanini are of the highest quality musically and are quite good sonically. You can question Toscanini's interpretations in the Austro-German and French repertoire, but in these items he is hard to beat.
The original material is seriously flawed sonically in dynamic range and afflicted with extraneous noises. The sound has been greatly improved and lovingly restored by Richard Caniell, who is to be congratulated for accomplishing what initially appeared to be an essentially impossible task.
Toscanini: Verdi Requiem 1938
The Verdi Requiem : what a phenomenal performance - with those marvelous soloists ! Milanov is truly superb - beyond description - and Kullmann extraordinary! It is fabulous that you issued this performance from 1938 - a particularly intense and rhythmically strict performance.
Founder and First Violin
The La Salle Quartet
VERDI: Requiem; NBC Broadcast Concert, 4 March 1938
Mortimer H. Frank
Although it may not prove attractive to a broad audience, this release is, nonetheless, important and should surely appeal to anyone interested in Toscanini or Verdi. The performance of the Requiem took place during the conductor’s first NBC season in Carnegie Hall on March 4, 1938. Not broadcast, it comprised a benefit for indigent musicians in New York City and Italy. It was the first of what would total four accounts Toscanini gave of the work at NBC, only two of which (the second and last) were aired.
The Requiem is, of course, the major attraction. As heard in this performance it is similar to Toscanini’s 1940 Carnegie Hall broadcast, both readings offering a flexibility not matched in the sterner rigidity of his RCA recording—a blend of a 1951 broadcast and rehearsal passages for it and featuring soloists inferior to those in the conductor’s earlier NBC presentations. The singers heard in 1938 are, with the exception of tenor Charles Kullman, identical to those in the 1940 performance (Music & Arts 4240).
Sound proved a major concern here. In his insert notes, producer Richard Caniell points out that a 2009 release of the performance from Archipel (which I have never heard), was filled with many sonic problems ranging from distortion to radical variations in pitch. Fortunately he gained access to a tape, once in the possession of RCA’s Richard Gardner, from which vastly superior sound could be achieved. What is offered here is far better than my own tape copy of the performance, one taken off a telephone line in which conversations often inject disturbing counterpoint to the music. In short, for its musical and sonic merit this performance alone makes the release worthwhile. . . . In short, hats off to Richard Caniell for resurrecting these performances and, in so doing, enriching our profile of Toscanini’s years at NBC.