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Reviews for Toscanini Brahms Cycle 1935 N.Y. Phil. IPCD 1025-4
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Reviews for IPCD 1025-4


Brahms Cycle 1935

Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York

BRAHMS Tragic Overture. Liebeslieder Waltzes. Violin Concerto. Piano Concerto No. 1. Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4. Serenades Nos. 1 and 2. Gesänge für Frauenchor. Hungarians Dances Nos. 17, 20, 21. Academic Festival Overture • Arturo Toscanini; NY Philharmonic; Jascha Heifetz (vn); Vladimir Horowitz (pn); Schola Cantorum • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1025-4 (4 CDs: 4:58:09)

Colin Clarke
FANFARE magazine
November/December 2014

As a window into Toscanini’s fire-hot Brahms, this can hardly be bettered. The sound, though, as one might expect from 1935, can be extremely harsh (there is a warning to this effect on the back of the box). Richard Caniell refers in his booklet note to the “huge and protracted work” that went into preparing the current discs, the contents taken from AM radio recordings by private individuals. Describing the techniques employed in the restoration (one might more properly say “resurrection”) of these recordings, Caniell paints a painstaking process, including his characteristic patching: the Tragic Overture is completed by the 10/15/1938 NBC broadcast.

Caniell also tantalizingly refers to a Toscanini German Requiem with Rethberg and Schorr as vocal soloists, which he tells us can only be heard by New York residents in the New York Public Library on headphones. As Caniell puts it, “one has to approach the private recordings made of the Philharmonic conducted by Toscanini in the 1930s as tantamount to damaged paintings, all masterpieces stemming from an earlier age.”

There are of course a number of Toscanini Tragic Overtures, including two from England (one with the BBC SO, the other with the Philharmonia). What is especially notable here in 1935 is the blistering, unremitting intensity, coupled with the prevailing dark hue. True, the 1937 BBC SO performance is even more fiery (and the sound, at least on the Naxos transfer, is fine), but here in 1935 Toscanini is in less of a hurry. There is more impetuosity in the orchestral contributions to the Heifetz account of the violin concerto, which acts as an indispensable complement to that violinist’s Boston and Chicago commercial accounts. The warmth, both orchestrally and from the solo, comes through the intervening years. The violin is excellently preserved here, and one can revel almost uninterrupted in Heifetz’s preternaturally accurate tuning. Heifetz plays the Auer cadenza. The slow movement is blessed with a recording that enables the woodwind to emerge without either an acidic or harsh edge. As one might expect from Toscanini, the finale is a no-slowing zone.

Although the first two works are from the 2/24/1935 concert, for reasons of space, the Liebeslieder Waltzes (from 3/31) appear on the first disc. The performance is spirited, if rather muffled chorally. There is a separate insert listing them.

Matching the high level of soloist for the violin concerto is Vladimir Horowitz for the First Piano Concerto. The sonic problems here are particularly intrusive, especially piano distortion and crowding at orchestral/piano climaxes. Yet, on the other side of the coin, the gossamer strings of the central slow movement serve surprisingly well. Again there are swings and roundabouts to the piano sound, in that the middle and lower registers emerge well but the upper register can create the odd problem. If the soloist and conductor are (famously perhaps) not ideally matched, there is plenty of fire from both in the finale, particularly in the closing stretch. If Horowitz is not particularly associated with Brahms (and there are plenty more composers more suited to his quixotic approach), this remains a stimulating and unmissable performance, especially given the link between the two artists. The performance lasts around 42 minutes, but it feels faster.

It is wonderful to hear some of the op. 37 Gesänge for female chorus, two horns, and harp. They are presented in the order of Nos. 4, 2, and 3. If the quieter passages threaten to disappear into the tunnels of time, it remains evident this is a carefully, nay lovingly, sculpted account. The horn parts are beautifully rewarding to play (I speak from personal experience), and whosever the horn players are here, they acquit themselves well. Continuing this trend is the Schubert/Brahms Ellens Zweiter Gesang, with its hunting fanfares and galloping rhythms.

The Academic Festival Overture is quite a remarkable performance: For the first time in this reviewer’s experience, parts of it seem to link to the music of Weber. As to the Fourth Symphony, it is given a performance that oscillates between the relentless and the magical. The recording (from the same concert as the First Serenade) is generally fine, with the brass chorale of the finale in particular coming across well. There is a sunny lyricism to the second movement.

Toscanini followers will need no prompting to purchase this set. The sterling work at Immortal Performances continues.


Brahms Cycle 1935

Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York

BRAHMS Tragic Overture. Liebeslieder Waltzes. Violin Concerto. Piano Concerto No. 1. Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4. Serenades Nos. 1 and 2. Gesänge für Frauenchor. Hungarians Dances Nos. 17, 20, 21. Academic Festival Overture • Arturo Toscanini; NY Philharmonic; Jascha Heifetz (vn); Vladimir Horowitz (pn); Schola Cantorum • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1025-4 (4 CDs: 4:58:09)

Michael Ullman
FANFARE magazine
July / August 2014

This four-disc collection assembles what remains and is salvageable of the famous 1935 Brahms cycle conducted by Arturo Toscanini in New York City. The performances were broadcast: The recordings were made by private listeners and the nature of the sound depends, among other things, on the quality of the radios owned by these exemplary citizens. It also depends on the quality of the acetates from which tapes were made. As anyone who has collected 78s knows, the most popular pieces often can only be found on worn recordings. I deduce that this is why the sound of Horowitz playing the First Piano Concerto, especially the second movement, is the most worn in this collection.

And yet, I wouldn’t go without hearing that performance on what is by far the worst sounding of the recordings presented here. For though the rest is variable, it is also more than listenable to my ears, whereas the only time I have heard one of this series before I found it unbearable. With the exception of the sometimes obscured piano concerto, I end up listening to, and being moved by, the music, and forgetting the occasional flaws, for the sound is always good enough to hear the music. Engineer Richard Caniell has done a remarkable job. He describes removing “the hollow tone” of the original, developing the dynamics top and bottom, and bringing out the violins. He doesn’t filter out the grit. Sometimes he improvises: The February 24th Tragic Overture cut off right before the end. Caniell has spliced in the end of a 1938 recording to finish the last few bars. Luckily, this kind of ingenuity is largely unnecessary.

The results justify his labors. I am listening with delight to the relaxed, transparent, and yet rhythmically continuous performance of the Serenade No. 1. The two serenades were never recorded commercially by Toscanini; this is one’s chance to hear the maestro sound charming. The Brahms Violin Concerto starts with a more muffled sound than we hear in other pieces. But immediately in the crescendo into the dramatic theme that follows we also know that this will be a dynamic performance. It is also a virtuoso performance and a uniquely moving one. I suppose that Heifetz and Toscanini did not think alike about many musical matters, but I also suppose that the violinist couldn’t hear the perfectly phrased, perfectly touching opening bars of the second movement without being drawn into the conductor’s world. Yet he also is allowed to unfurl his virtuosic phrases with all his typical ardor and variety of tones. This is a sublime performance in sound that never interferes with its appeal.

The sound of the Third Symphony is more varied; it is startlingly more full in the final movement (a better radio, I assume). It’s the major works that will, and should, draw listeners to this collection. Toscanini’s depth of understanding of Brahms and indeed of every composer he approached is legendary, as is his ability to transmit this profound understanding first to his orchestra and then to audiences. He matches Brahms’s passion and intellectual rigor in these large masterpieces. But also how wonderful are the performances of the relatively minor works. His superb shaping of every phrase and his rhythmic joy, I am tempted to say, are what make the Hungarian Dances recorded here such an unparalleled pleasure. (But then, I am a fan of his Stars and Stripes Forever.) The beauty of the performance of the songs for women makes the music transcend the sonic limitations. Nor have I heard a more exciting rendition of the Academic Festival Overture. I heartily recommend this mastering of a historically important, musically thrilling, Brahms series.

Brahms Cycle 1935

Philharmonic Symphony Society of New York

Arturo Toscanini

TOSCANINI - BRAHMS Tragic Overture. Violin Concerto. Piano Concerto No. 1. Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4. Serenades Nos. 1 and 2. Hungarian Dances Nos. 17, 20, 21. Gesänge für Frauenchor Nos. 2, 3, 4 • Arturo Toscanini, cond; P S Society of New York; Jascha Heifetz (vn); Vladimir Horowitz (pn) • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1025-4 (4 CDs: 298:09)

Kenneth Morgan
Classical Recordings Quarterly
Autumn 2013

With a combination of Toscanini, Horowitz and Heifetz in major works by Brahms, this set is clearly one of historic significance. This is the earliest live Brahms cycle conducted by Toscanini that has surfaced on CD. Some of these broadcasts have been released previously, including the Brahms First Piano Concerto (APR CD 6001) and the two Serenades, the Academic Festival Overture and some of the part songs (Guild CD GHCD2337/38). This is the first time, however, that these four complete concerts have been issued commercially. Moreover, the sound in this set is more musically acceptable and correctly pitched than on those previous CDs.

The selection of choral pieces is an unusual choice for Toscanini, and the two serenades were works he did not conduct frequently and never recorded commercially: this a strong reason for collectors to purchase this set, especially as the performances find the Maestro in a genial mood. Besides the works presented here, Toscanini also gave a concert on 14 February 1935 that included the Haydn Variations, the Double Concerto (with Mishel Piastro and Alfred Wallenstein as soloists) and the First Symphony. A recording of that concert, if it exists, bas not been located.

These broadcasts were not taken from professional equipment . As the producer Richard Caniell explains, RCA/NBC were contractually engaged to the New York Philharmonic­ Symphony, but CBS owned broadcast rights and neither company would consent to broadcasts from which the other would benefit. Caniell and his associates have therefore had to reconstruct these broadcasts from private home recordings cut on to lacquers, removing hundreds of clicks and pops, adjusting the sound for tone, timbre and dynamics, and correcting sliding pitch. This has been a labour of love, involving painstaking restoration of the original sound. The end results present as faithful an aural rendition of these broadcasts as we are ever likely to hear. Persistent crackle is not so noisy that one's listening is impaired. Wavering tone sometimes obtrudes, as at the end of the slow movement of the Fourth Symphony, but not persistently enough to deter one's listening pleasure.

In old age, Horowitz expressed reservations about playing Brahms's piano concertos. He found the music not particularly suited to his strengths in the Romantic piano repertoire. He mainly programmed the First Concerto in the mid-1930s and then largely avoided playing a work he did not feel suited to his musical temperament. The account presented here represents Horowitz's effort to learn the concerto specifically to please Toscanini, his father-in-law. The performance is accompanied by enthusiastic applause after each movement. Toscanini launches proceedings with a mighty ritornello and Horowitz negotiates double octaves and arpeggios in an unflinchingly direct and purposeful manner. The rondo finale finds conductor, pianist and orchestra playing with plenty of adrenalin at an almost hectic speed. In the slow movement, however, conductor and soloist sound thoughtful and reverent, and of one accord. If ultimately the performance impresses for its staggering orchestral and pianistic virtuosity, it is nonetheless refreshing to hear Brahms played with such concentration and conviction.

I do not know whether Heifetz considered Brahms's Violin Concerto as music, in Schnabel's words, that is "better than it can be performed", but this reading preserves one of his finest live accounts of the score. The formidable technical challenge of the concerto is, as might be anticipated, completely under Heifetz's control, affording a fine example of his razor-sharp articulation, perfect intonation and closely controlled vibrato. As always with Heifetz, one can hear every single note, however rapid the fingering required. Toscanini and Heifetz are agreed that the concerto should be encased within a firm, taut structure, but there is no lack of lyrical feeling in the performance. Heifetz is masterly at projecting the dappled half shades that are essential in any fine account of this work. And it goes without saying that the virtuosic elements of the soloist's music, notably in the Auer cadenza, are played as consistently and assuredly as one would expect. According to the insert notes, this was Heifetz's first complete concerto performance ever broadcast.

The two symphonies in this release underscore the limitations of caricaturing Toscanini as a relentless, driving, literal interpreter of mainstream symphonic literature, a view that still lingers among some listeners . Boldness and strong structural underpinnings are certainly evident in these readings , but Toscanini allows time for expressive phrasing . The lyrical melody on the cellos and double basses in the slow movement of the Fourth Symphony is played with a cantabile line and the "Poco Allegretto" of the Third Symphony is deft and sensitive. Toscanini was a major interpreter of Brahms , to whose music he had a lifelong devotion. His consistently committed renditions of the works presented here well justify these Immortal Performances CDs.

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