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Review for Toscanini All-Wagner 1941 | IPCD 1043-3

Review for IPCD 1043-3



TOSCANINI ALL-WAGNER BENEFIT CONCERT 1941


NBC SO IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES IPCD 1043-3 (AAD, 3 CDs: 193:45)


WAGNER Lohengrin: Prelude to Act I. Tannhäuser: Dich, teure halle. Die Walküre: Act I, sc. iii. Tristan und Isolde: Prelude to Act I. Götterdämmerung: Dawn, Siegfried and Brünnhilde Duet, Rhine Journey, Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music, Brünnhilde’s Immolation. Carnegie Hall, New York, 2/22/41. Die Walküre, Act I, sc. iii, rehearsal, 1947. Rienzi: Overture, 12/3/38. Der Fliegende Höllander, Overture, rehearsal (3/29/46) and performance (3/31/46). Tannhäuser: Act III Prelude, 11/29/53. Arturo Toscanini, cond; Helen Traubel (sop); Lauritz Melchior (ten)


Ken Meltzer
FANFARE magazine
March / April 2015


In 2004-5 Guild Music issued Arturo Toscanini’s February 22, 1941 all-Wagner Carnegie Hall concert, with Helen Traubel, Lauritz Melchior, and the NBC Symphony Orchestra. That release also included 20 minutes of a 1947 Toscanini-NBC SO rehearsal of the final scene of Act I of Die Walküre. In his essay accompanying his new Immortal Performances release of the concert, Richard Caniell reports the subsequent discovery of a different source tape, in better sound. That new tape, coupled with advances in sonic restoration technology, led to the release that is the subject of this review (Mr. Caniell also notes the use of rehearsal material to correct a vocal fluff by Traubel in the Götterdämmerung Dawn Duet, and a missed horn note in Siegfried’s Rhine Journey). In addition to the 1947 Walküre rehearsal, the three-disc (priced as two) Immortal Performances issue adds a 1938 broadcast of the Rienzi Overture, a 1946 rehearsal and broadcast of The Flying Dutchman Overture, and a 1953 broadcast of the original Act III Prelude to Tannhäuser.


In his eloquent and informative essay reprinted from the Guild release, William Youngren provides a detailed comparison of Toscanini’s Wagner interpretations in the February 22, 1941 concert with other recordings by the Maestro of the same repertoire. That is always a worthwhile and rewarding endeavor. Toscanini, one of the greatest Wagner conductors, was a constantly searching and evolving artist. And there are often striking differences from one Toscanini recording to the next. But of equal interest, I think, is the opportunity to hear Toscanini’s interpretations in the context of the ebb and flow of an individual concert, whose repertoire he constructed to achieve a certain musical and theatrical effect. And so, a broadly-paced, introspective Prelude to Act I of Lohengrin is a perfect foil to the scintillating “Dich, teure Halle” from Tannhäuser, radiantly sung by Helen Traubel. The propulsive Traubel-Melchior-Toscanini performance of the conclusion of Act I of Die Walküre precedes an expansive rendition of the Prelude to Act I (with concert ending) of Tristan und Isolde. Toscanini’s masterful synthesis of programming and interpretation continues throughout, culminating with Helen Traubel’s electrifying performance of Brünnhilde’s Immolation Scene from Götterdämmerung (even more thrilling than the studio recording made two days later). Audience reaction and excerpts from Gene Hamilton’s on-air commentary add to the concert experience and sense of occasion. This historic event is captured in warm, clear, and immediate sound, a significant improvement over the prior Guild release (GHCD 2242/3).


The extended rehearsal excerpts from Die Walküre and The Flying Dutchman provide an invaluable window to Toscanini’s exacting, professional approach, along with the occasional legendary flash of temper. And the product of rehearsal may be found in a galvanizing rendition of the Flying Dutchman Overture. Equally thrilling is the 1938 broadcast of the Rienzi Overture, with some lovely (and perhaps unexpected) string portamentos in the slow introduction. The set concludes with a rapt and gorgeously played rendition of the original version of the Prelude to Act III of Tännhäuser.


In addition to the Youngren and Caniell essays, Robert Matthew-Walker provides an informative overview of Toscanini’s lifelong fascination with Wagner, and an appreciation of the 1941 Carnegie Hall concert. While some of the material included on this set may be found on other commercial releases, the Immortal Performances issue is the only one that allows us to hear this once-in-a-lifetime concert the same way the fortunate Carnegie Hall and radio audiences did. As such, it is a priceless treasure, and one that should earn the gratitude of all who admire Wagner’s music and one of its greatest podium advocates.




TOSCANINI ALL-WAGNER BENEFIT CONCERT 1941


NBC SO IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES IPCD 1043-3 (AAD, 3 CDs: 193:45)


WAGNER Lohengrin: Prelude to Act I. Tannhäuser: Dich, teure halle. Die Walküre: Act I, sc. iii. Tristan und Isolde: Prelude to Act I. Götterdämmerung: Dawn, Siegfried and Brünnhilde Duet, Rhine Journey, Siegfried’s Death and Funeral Music, Brünnhilde’s Immolation. Carnegie Hall, New York, 2/22/41. Die Walküre, Act I, sc. iii, rehearsal, 1947. Rienzi: Overture, 12/3/38. Der Fliegende Höllander, Overture, rehearsal (3/29/46) and performance (3/31/46). Tannhäuser: Act III Prelude, 11/29/53. Arturo Toscanini, cond; Helen Traubel (sop); Lauritz Melchior (ten)


Colin Clarke
FANFARE magazine
March / April 2015


Probably the greatest thing I can say about this is that it has all but converted this particular Toscanini-doubter into an admirer. The sound quality helps no end: no sandpaper-dry Studio 8H this, but a Carnegie Hall that seems intent on relaying the bloom on the orchestra sound. So it is that the tissue-delicate opening to the Lohengrin act I Prelude comes virtually noise-free of extraneous distractions. It is a superb performance, at once capturing the spirituality of the music while rising to an inspiring climax (which the recording has no problems with).


Helen Traubel is a name familiar to all those conversant with Wagner recordings of this time. Hearing her in combination with Melchior in this concert is a pleasure and a privilege. The orchestral excellence at the opening of the Tannhäuser excerpt reminds us how strong and well rehearsed Toscanini’s Wagner was. The repeated wind chords are given at quite a lick and yet clarity is uppermost; orchestral interjections to her narrative are delivered not only with preternatural ensemble but with a true sense of meaning. Traubel is absolutely the equal of all this, her greeting functioning double as her greeting to us, the listeners, also. Melchior is simply superb in the final stages of act I Walküre, his baritonal tinge adding weight to Siegmund’s utterances. The string definition at speed is quite remarkable, and Traubel’s voice seems to take on extra depth to resonate with Melchior’s. She is resplendent as she names Siegmund, and the whole comes together perfectly as the music moves towards its fateful conclusion with massive energy and speed, yet not a touch of rush.


The Tristan Prelude (heard with the rather abrupt close of the concert version) that follows is of searing intensity. The tempo flows—no Goodallian stasis here—as if the music is carried forward unstoppably by an unseen force.


Post-intermission, there was excerpt after excerpt from Götterdämmerung, kicking off with the Dawn Duet from the Prologue. Traubel’s voice is excellently caught in this transfer, her sound full, passionate yet with a slight edge in the upper registers, just enough to pierce textures but not enough to be uncomfortable. Whatever the vocal excellences of Melchior and Traubel in the duet, the arrival at the Rhine Journey reminds us who is really in control here, and indeed who is really the star. The power of the close is immense: a brief announcement from Gene Hamilton, and Siegfried’s Death plangently begins. The extended, sustained chords with their shifting tone colors are a test for any transfer, and here the result is triumphant. There is virtually nothing to get between listener and Toscanini’s view of Wagner. Perhaps the sudden explosions at the climactic moments of the Funeral Music itself have a little touch of edge to them, but not enough to detract seriously. Traubel’s Immolation Scene sets the seal on her status here. This must have been her at the very top of her form (I have not heard her finer), and she delivered one of the most nuanced accounts of the Immolation on record. Just listen to the gamut of emotions she calls on in the passages around her calling on her horse, Grane, for example. The cheers at the end are completely justified.


This time, Immortal Performances gifts us with a whole disc and more of “extras.” (Anything to do with issuing this around Christmas time, I wonder?) After the concert at the end of the second disc comes 20 minutes’ worth of rehearsal fragments from 1947, with Toscanini’s characteristic singing/groaning in the music preceding “Winterstürme” and the in the act I finale.


The final disc is of Toscanini with the NBC orchestra. The Rienzi Overture from December 3, 1938 is notable for an Elgarian nobilmente to the broad, lyrical theme; it is just as notable for the sheer electricity of the end. The transfer here will have you staring at the date in disbelief. There is nothing uncomfortable at all in terms of distortion etc. Interpretatively, only towards the end of the piece might the age-old accusation of Toscanini as “the old bandmaster” come into play.


An extended (27 minute) rehearsal portion for the Holländer Overture offers a window into Toscanini’s world and is long enough for us to enter it properly, for once. It dates from March 29, 1946 and is followed, aptly enough, by the performance just a few days later, on March 31, of the Overture, ablaze with electric storms (of the Wagnerian kind). Finally, there comes the Prelude to act III of Tannhäuser in its original version.


So, another triumph for Immortal Performances, and one which has been, for this reviewer, quite the revelation. Keep ‘em coming, lads.




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