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Reviews for Toscanini Philharmonic Concerts 2 Feb. – 19 April 1936 | IPCD 1049-4

Review for IPCD 1049–43



TOSCANINI PHILHARMONIC CONCERTS


Two Performances


2 FEBRUARY 1936 COMPLETE CONCERT - CARNEGIE HALL

BACH Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 2 (Robert Casadesus; pn). BEETHOVEN Coriolan Overture. Symphony No. 4 (Ania Dorfmann (pn); Mishel Piastro (vn); Josef Schuster (vc). Triple Concerto.


19 APRIL 1936 COMPLETE CONCERT - ALL DEBUSSY

Le martyre de Saint-Sébastien: Le Cour de Lys. Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Nocturnes: Nuages, Fêtes. Ibéria: Book 2. La damoiselle élue (Bidú Sayão (sop); Rose Bampton (alt). La mer


IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1049-4 (4 CDs: 241:24)


Colin Clarke
FANFARE magazine
July/August 2015


The first two discs of this immensely valuable four-disc set present a concert of February 2, 1936 with one of Immortal Performance’s famed bonuses: a rare Triple Concerto with Dorfmann, Piastro, and Schuster. The whole set acts as a reminder of Toscanini’s time with the Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of New York (1926–36: Toscanini was their principal conductor 1929–36).


For the Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, the trumpet part was replaced by an E♭ clarinet because of the difficulties the part presented for the “modern trumpet,” according to the presenter’s introduction; also, the recorder part is played on the modern flute. Occasional crowding to the sound is no bar to enjoyment, for there is a breezy lightness to the first movement, a carefree element that one rarely associates with this conductor. Immortal Performances is quite open about the sonic problems (“the Brandenburg Concerto had the poorest reproduction, its sound being compressed and distanced”) yet, as the annotator states, “the result is quite imperfect, but sufficiently rescued from its deplorable state as to justify its release.” Quite so, and let the present writer not for a second intimate that one should hesitate to listen to this. The expressivity of the Andante second movement is really quite beautiful. If the crowding of the recording is going to upset anyone, it will most likely be in the finale, where there is also an element of just pressing forward a touch too much.


The Coriolan is hard pressed, an approach which undoubtedly works for this particular piece. Yet interestingly this forward-looking, determined approach results in an emotionally draining account of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto with Robert Casadesus. Richard Caniell in the booklet puts forward a strong case for leaving a goodly amount of surface noise intact, thereby leaving the depth of the recording intact as well. The presence of the orchestral bass (the gritty accent at 7:48) before the re-entrance of the solo horn in the first movement is as good an example as any. Casadesus’s pianism is astonishing in its grasp of the Brahmsian sound-world, both in its attention to detail and his delicacy. Both come into full flow in the second movement. Toscanini performed this piece often with Horowitz, of course, but the meeting with Casadesus here seems so right from so many aspects; the two seem to be absolutely linked at a fundamental level. It’s also good that the deep timbre of the solo cello is reproduced with such integrity; this is a forward, intense reading of the slow movement, one which refuses to sit still, admiring its own beauties.


The Beethoven Fourth Symphony’s first movement introduction is heard in blessedly pure sound. Extraneous noise is held back to an absolute minimum, enabling one to properly appreciate not only Toscanini’s true pianissimos but also the variegated attacks and swells of the strings. This performance seems not really to have achieved full currency before, despite having been available in a couple of LP incarnations as well as a Japanese Palette CD. It appears to be the earliest of the Toscanini Beethoven Fourths we have, and bristles with power. The slow movement (actually there is a fair amount of momentum here, so take “slow” with a pinch of salt) is heard in a performance of real sonic warmth, both from the orchestra and from the acoustic, a luxury not always available with this conductor’s recordings. The floating solo clarinet around the seven-minute mark is pure gold, as is the string detail, here so audible, as the movement moves towards its close. That characteristic Toscanini drive is present in the finale.


The split between discs does not match that of the concert (the interval was after the Brahms Concerto, with the two Beethoven items then following ). No matter; more a happy memory of flipping LP sides in the old days. The “bonus” to fill the second disc is the May 1, 1942 Beethoven Triple Concerto with Dorfmann, Piastro, and Schuster; it has been available on a number of compact disc labels previously, but this transfer is superior to, for example, that on Naxos 8.110801. It was part of a 1942 Beethoven cycle. Collectors will surely know Dorfmann’s Choral Fantasy and First Concerto with Toscanini well; they may know what to expect here also. Toscanini’s first movement must surely be one of the fastest, and it lends an underlying tension to the performance. Piastro’s cantabile comes across fantastically well in the slow movement, and it here in fact that one really appreciates the chamber music element of the solo group. Piastro’s portamento is well judged, and Toscanini’s accompaniment is remarkably sensitive, including a beautiful darkening of sonority when warranted. Piastro is excellent again at the cripplingly high first statement of the theme in the finale. Perhaps a touch more character from Toscanini’s polacca accompaniments in the finale would have made the performance, but this is counteracted by a real understanding of the progressive nature of Beethoven’s writing around six-seven minutes in. Plus, the documentary value of this performance more than justifies its inclusion.


Toscanini’s Debussy has an inner light that shines through everything he conducted by this composer, but perhaps it is particularly evident in the orchestral colorings of the excerpt from Le martyre de Saint-Sébastien. The famous Prélude is exquisitely drawn: finely etched lines, but viewed in half-light. The number of alternative versions of “Nuages” and “Fêtes” indicates these pieces’ closeness to Toscanini’s heart, and that resonance is communicated here both in the glowing harmonies of “Nuages” and in the fierce sun of “Fêtes” (and it is this latter’s energy that imbues the opening of Ibéria). That inner light is again present in the central movement; the transfer allows the glow to shine forth as never before.


It’s nice to have Lawrence Gilman’s carefully read out and brief (2:44) introduction to La damoiselle élue, and nicer still to have the performance of extracts here. Toscanini’s pacing seems perfect for “La demoiselle élue s’appuyait”; soprano Bidu Sayão is radiant in “Je voudrais qu’il fût.” Finally, there comes a Toscanini favorite: La mer. There are of course multiple versions of this piece with Toscanini at the helm, and it is good to have this one. The “Recording Notes” to the present release detail the problems here. The conclusion of the piece provided the biggest headache, as the engineer went from the close mikes of the first two movements to a “second balcony” focus to reduce the level for the loud ending. Somehow Caniell’s trickery enables the grandeur of this close to shine through, despite some loss of detail. There is full two minutes plus of applause retained at the end. The enthusiasm of the audience is certainly beyond any doubt, and it is good that the same electricity that generated that ovation comes across the years to us now. This is a most rewarding issue.




TOSCANINI PHILHARMONIC CONCERTS


Two Performances


2 FEBRUARY 1936 COMPLETE CONCERT - CARNEGIE HALL

BACH Brandenburg Concerto No. 2. BRAHMS Piano Concerto No. 2 (Robert Casadesus; pn). BEETHOVEN Coriolan Overture. Symphony No. 4 (Ania Dorfmann (pn); Mishel Piastro (vn); Josef Schuster (vc). Triple Concerto.


19 APRIL 1936 COMPLETE CONCERT - ALL DEBUSSY

Le martyre de Saint-Sébastien: Le Cour de Lys. Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Nocturnes: Nuages, Fêtes. Ibéria: Book 2. La damoiselle élue (Bidú Sayão (sop); Rose Bampton (alt). La mer


IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1049-4 (4 CDs: 241:24)


Ken Meltzer
FANFARE magazine
July/August 2015


A new release (four discs, priced as three) from Immortal Performances documents broadcast performances from Carnegie Hall by the New York Philharmonic Symphony Society and Arturo Toscanini: a complete concert of February 2, 1936, the Beethoven Triple Concerto from a concert of May 1, 1942, and the all-Debussy program of April 19, 1936. In his “Recording Notes,” Richard Caniell discusses the source materials for these recordings, as well as the remarkably intensive reproduction work required to make them suitable for public issue. The results are for the most part inferior to studio recordings of the time; surface noise, congested acoustics, volume fluctuation, and abrupt side joins are often present. Of the three concerts included on this set, February 2, 1936 is most problematic from a sonic perspective, while the Beethoven Triple Concerto has by far the best sound. But thanks to Richard Caniell’s heroic efforts, those accustomed to the sonics of reissues of historic concert performances may acquire this set with confidence, and enjoy a series of remarkable performances by a legendary conductor and orchestra at the height of their powers and artistry.


The February 2, 1936 concert opens with Bach’s Second Brandenburg Concerto, immaculately performed at moderate tempos that always maintain a sense of forward momentum. The rendition of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto, with Robert Casadesus as soloist, is one of the glories of this set. Those familiar with Casadesus’s advocacy of such composers as Mozart and Ravel will not be surprised by the poetry he brings to much of this score. The opening measures are a case in point, setting the stage for all that follows. The initial horn figure is taken at a broad tempo, and sung with a rapt beauty that Casadesus immediately echoes. But when the agitated solo episode arrives, Casadesus dispatches it with virtuoso abandon. And indeed throughout this performance, Casadesus, Toscanini, and the New York Philharmonic provide the best of all worlds; a Brahms Second Piano Concerto that features sensitive phrasing and a beautiful singing tone from all concerned, aligned with high drama and blazing virtuoso fireworks when required. It’s no surprise that the audience erupts into sustained applause, not only at the work’s conclusion, but after both the first and second movements as well. The performance of Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture is another miracle. The overture is taken at lightning speed, and with frightening intensity. And yet, the orchestral tone throughout is luminescent, never bordering on the unattractive. In the final measures, the combination of hushed dynamics, slower tempo, and perfectly judged rubato is breathtaking. Toscanini relates the close of the Coriolan Overture with the start of one of its contemporaries, the Beethoven Fourth Symphony. The opening Adagio is taken at an extraordinarily broad tempo, and played with rapt introspection, making the whiplash opening of the ensuing Allegro vivace all the more arresting. From there, the performance proceeds from strength to strength. Toscanini’s masterful way with the Beethoven Fourth is well documented in studio and concert recordings with the BBC and NBC Symphony Orchestras. This New York Philharmonic performance, while inferior from a sonic perspective, deserves a place of prominence in that discography.


The May 1, 1942 performance of the Triple Concerto was part of a Beethoven cycle Toscanini performed with the New York Philharmonic that year. As I mentioned, the sonics here are the best in this release, and the closest to studio recordings of that era. But the performance is, to my ears, the least compelling of the works on this set. All of the soloists are excellent, and the work is played with great precision and drive. But here (as contrasted with, say, the Coriolan Overture ), the rapid tempos seem hurried, robbing the work of its charm. In his excellent liner notes, Robert Matthew-Walker disagrees, suggesting that Toscanini’s approach “reveals the concerto as arguably the most unjustly neglected of Beethoven’s orchestral masterpieces.”


Claude Debussy had been dead less than two decades when Toscanini and the New York Philharmonic performed an ambitious program consisting entirely of the French composer’s works. The concert juxtaposes familiar Debussy compositions ( Faun, Nocturnes, Ibéria, and La mer ) with an excerpt from Le martyre de Saint-Sébastien and La damoiselle élue . Toscanini was one of the great advocates and interpreters of Debussy’s music, and the April 19, 1936 program is both an historic and musical document of the highest order. The tonal sheen and transparency of the instrumental voices that Toscanini elicits throughout from the New York Philharmonic is nothing short of miraculous. It should be noted that Toscanini often favors broad tempos, allowing such qualities to shine even brighter. But there is never a lack of momentum, and, where appropriate, energy and high drama. The conclusion of La mer, for example, rightfully elicited sustained roars of approval from the Carnegie Hall audience. The performance of Debussy’s early work for solo voices, female chorus, and orchestra, La damoiselle élue (The Blessed Damozel) deserves special mention. The part of the Damozel is interpreted by the great lyric soprano Bidú Sayão. In 1947, Sayão made a superb studio recording of this work for Columbia Records, with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. But as great a recording artist as Bidú Sayão was, she was even more spontaneous and committed in live performance. And in her collaboration with Toscanini, Sayão, in her early 30s, seems absolutely transported, singing with breathtaking radiance and involvement. Those familiar with Sayão’s studio recording of The Blessed Damozel owe it to themselves to hear this rendition.


The concert recordings on this set include portions of the broadcast commentary, including Lawrence Gilman’s discussion of The Blessed Damozel. The inclusion of several works not officially recorded by Toscanini adds to this set’s importance. Even with the compromised sound, I think this release is a treasure for all who admire Toscanini, and to a great degree, the works included as well.


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