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Toscanini Missa Solemnis 1939 | IPCD 1086-2

Reviews for IPCD 1086–2



TOSCANINI

BBC MISSA SOLEMNIS 1939


BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis. The Creatures of Prometheus: Overture. Symphony Nos. 6 and 7 • Arturo Toscanini, cond; Zinka Milanov (sop); Kerstin Thorborg (alt); Koloman von Pataky (ten); Nicola Moscona (bs); BBC Ch; Society BBC SO • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1086-2 AAD (2 CDs: 157:25)


Ken Meltzer
FANFARE magazine
November / December 2017


The 1939 BBC performance of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, newly restored by Immortal Performances, is one of four available versions of the work conducted by Arturo Toscanini:


- Carnegie Hall, New York, April 28, 1935: Elisabeth Rethberg, Marion Telva, Giovanni Martinelli, Ezio Pinza, New York Philharmonic, Chorus of the Schola Cantorum;


- Queen’s Hall, London, May 28, 1939: Zinka Milanov, Kerstin Thorborg, Koloman von Pataky, Nicola Moscona, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Choral Society;


- Carnegie Hall, December 28, 1940: Zinka Milanov, Bruna Castagna, Jussi Björling, Alexander Kipnis, NBC Symphony Orchestra, Westminster Choir;


- Carnegie Hall, New York, April 28, 1935: Elisabeth Rethberg, Marion Telva, Giovanni Martinelli, Ezio Pinza, New York Philharmonic, Chorus of the Schola Cantorum;


Of the four, the 1953 recording, issued by RCA, is by far the best known. But the three earlier recordings, all documents of concert performances, present a far more compelling view of the work. In his booklet essay for the Immortal Performances release of the 1939 BBC performance, Richard Caniell ranks the quartet in the following order: 1935 New York Philharmonic, 1940 NBC SO, 1939 BBC SO, 1953 NBC SO. I agree with his assessment. In all three of the earlier performances, Toscanini adopts a far broader, flexible, and intensely dramatic approach than in the more streamlined 1953 recording. In each of the first three performances, the quartet of soloists, orchestra, and chorus are all of the highest quality. The quintessential example of Toscanini’s genius at the service of the Missa solemnis is found in the 1935 New York Philharmonic broadcast. It is an extraordinarily intense rendition, one with a gripping sense of human drama that borders on the operatic. In my review of Immortal Performances’ spectacular 2014 restoration of the 1935 Missa (Fanfare 39:1 Sept/Oct 2015), I characterized it as “certainly the most eloquent and powerful rendition of this unique work I have ever heard.” My conviction increases each time I return to the performance. The 1939 and 1940 broadcasts are in a similar vein, without quite achieving the once-in-a-lifetime miracle of the 1935 performance. Still, both are documents of Toscanini at the height of his powers, interpreting a work he adored, and as such, are well worth hearing. Of the two, the 1940 broadcast is in far better sound (I own reissues on the Music & Arts and Guild labels, both excellent). In 1999, the BBC issued an official release of the 1939 Missa, coupled with Toscanini-BBC SO concert performances of the Cherubini Anacréon Overture, Mozart “Haffner” Symphony, and Beethoven Seventh. The Missa solemnis on that set, while quite listenable, suffers to a degree from shifting perspectives (probably the result of volume control micromanagement by the broadcast engineers) and lack of presence and definition for the solo voices. That shortcoming extended to Paul Beard’s heavenly violin solo in the Benedictus (Beard was Thomas Beecham’s personal choice in 1932 to be the leader of the newly formed London Philharmonic Orchestra). And it was Beard’s solo in the Benedictus in the 1939 Missa that served as the inspiration for Richard Caniell to try his hand at a new restoration of the performance. Caniell acknowledges that the original broadcast recording is compromised, and only capable of so much improvement. But I do believe that Richard Caniell and Immortal Performances have succeeded in achieving a brighter, livelier acoustic, and one that gives greater due to the detail Toscanini achieved in this fine performance.


The Missa solemnis is derived from one of several concerts Toscanini performed with the BBC Symphony Orchestra during the 1930s. Toscanini also made a series of acclaimed commercial recordings with the BBC SO. A palpable chemistry existed between the Maestro and this fine orchestra. As such, their commercial and in-performance recordings are a worthy complement to Toscanini’s magnificent 1930s collaborations with the New York Philharmonic. The second disc of the new Immortal Performances all-Beethoven release presents new restorations of two commercial recordings, The Creatures of Prometheus Overture (June 1, 1939) and “Pastoral” Symphony (October 21 and 22, 1937), and a June 14, 1935 concert performance of the Symphony No. 7. The Prometheus Overture offers a marvelous synthesis of bracing tempos, immaculate execution, and rich, singing tone. The BBC SO “Pastoral” has long held a special place in the Toscanini discography. Among all of Toscanini’s documented interpretations of this work the BBC recording, without ever shortchanging the work’s more propulsive, dramatic moments, has a warmth and lightness of spirit that set it apart. The Beethoven Seventh is a scintillating, thrilling performance that culminates in a hair-raising finale, inspiring an ecstatic response from the Queen’s Hall audience. The studio “Pastoral” has been reissued several times, including RCA’s comprehensive Toscanini set (there is also a fine restoration on the Biddulph label). The Prometheus and Beethoven Seventh are part of a four-disc West Hill Radio Archive set devoted to Toscanini’s 1935 BBC SO concerts. All of these releases serve the music very well. In his new restorations, Richard Caniell takes a different (and I think preferable) approach. In Caniell’s remasterings more surface noise is evident, although I do not find it intrusive at all. But the acoustic in the new restorations is correspondingly more open, transparent, and detailed. I find it a more realistic and musical sonic canvas.


Robert Matthew-Walker offers a beautifully written and informative essay on Toscanini’s relationship with the BBC SO, and the included performances. In addition to artist photos and bios, Richard Caniell authors a detailed and passionate narrative of the challenges Toscanini faced while attempting to have his interpretations appropriately recorded and reproduced, as well as the efforts by Immortal Performances to restore the 1939 Missa solemnis. Richard Caniell’s superb restorations are now my preferred versions of all the performances included on this set. A first-rate release in every respect, and highly recommended.




BEETHOVEN Missa solemnis. The Creatures of Prometheus: Overture. Symphony Nos. 6 and 7 • Arturo Toscanini, cond; Zinka Milanov (sop); Kerstin Thorborg (alt); Koloman von Pataky (ten); Nicola Moscona (bs); BBC Ch; Society BBC SO • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1086-2 AAD (2 CDs: 157:25)


Colin Clarke
FANFARE magazine
November / December 2017


The 1939 BBC performance of Beethoven’s Missa solemnis, newly restored by Immortal Performances, is one of four available versions of the work conducted by Arturo Toscanini:


Arturo Toscanini’s British visits are celebrated in this set, with another Immortal Performances Missa solemnis (see Fanfare 39:1 for my review of their issue of Toscanini’s 1935 New York performance).


Here, the opening choral statement of “Kyrie” is awesome in effect, the more so because of the excellent recording. No trace of distortion or coloring means one is left to admire the sheer heft of choral sound. Toscanini does not hurry through this Kyrie first movement. Zinka Milanov’s steely soprano adds tautness to the Christe, while Pataky’s sweet tenor in the return of the Kyrie seems to seek repose and peace in response to that tautness. The Gloria is an exquisite powerhouse of energy, with those high soprano climaxes to phrases well rendered. We hear the tenderness of Et in terra pax across the years, as well as the resolute counterpoint of the Glorificamus. The Qui tollis has a grandeur even outstripping that of the 1935 performance, while the Misesere glows through the superb balance, and radiance, of the soloists; Pataky’s glorious tenor shines through, a luminous star amongst stars. The sheer detail on this transfer is miraculous.


The Credo is a great cry of belief. So great, it is almost as if Beethoven is trying to convince himself of his own faith; there is an element of this in Bernstein’s DG performance of the Missa, too, although there it is more prevalent in Bernstein’s angry Benedictus. The present transfer means one can hear the detail at softer dynamic levels with preternatural accuracy, while the loud choral passages avoid undue coloring. The Et incarnates est is a glowing miracle of sound. There are decidedly thorny stabs around the Crucifixus that perhaps refer of Jesus’ prickly crown, a remarkable moment that speaks here with unique power.


The orchestral opening of the Sanctus is incredibly beautiful, shot through with a transcendent spirituality the sort of which we enjoy in the slow movement of Beethoven’s very last string quartets. Its power is enhanced by the transparency of the transfer; as is violinist Paul Beard’s solo in the Benedictus, the latter superbly sweet-toned and caught with just the right balance. The soloists work particularly well together in the Miserere, where Moscona’s firm bass is particularly rewarding. Distanced trumpets in the Qui tollis are remarkably placed. There is a wonderful sense of drama; here Zinka Milanov’s piercing top really comes into its own, softening miraculously.


This performance is also available on BBC Legends (4016) but there really is no comparison: Immortal Performances offers an altogether more listenable, involving experience.


The Beethoven overture Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus is promoted in status and heft by Toscanini’s portentous way with the opening chords and slow opening. The main body of the Overture, though, is full of energy, with the strings as well drilled as one might expect from this source. The Sixth Symphony is the natural follow-on from the Overture, a sprightly first movement full of affectionately balanced textures. The recording allows us to hear that warmth of string sounds as well as the bite of the accents. The “Scene by the Brook” sings magnificently (and not Italianately). Toscanini’s tempos reach the heart of the matter; portamento is expressive, if decidedly not what we would expect from a “Pastoral” of today. The Scherzo has terrific energy, the pastoral oboe piping bucolically. The horns, so vital in this movement, seem distant, yet the storm retains its energy, the “cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm” offering a palpable feeling of relief; more, of basking in the glory of Nature herself.


The Seventh Symphony, with characteristically stabbing chords at the opening, fizzes with energy. The restoration here is magnificent, with noise kept to an absolute minimum. The music powers seamlessly onwards. Some might wish for Furtwängler’s impeccable structural command (those of us who worship that master, at least), but there is no denying the dynamism of Toscanini’s take. The BBC orchestra is on fiery form, while the second movement has an undertone of disquiet (the lower strings are beautifully rendered here, ominous and funereal at around the four- to five-minute mark). We hear a little groan from the Maestro in the final measures before the unstoppable velocity of the Scherzo sweeps us away. The finale is remarkable, grounded by stomping double basses yet continually about to take off via the energy of the higher-pitched instruments. And of course that twin layering of intent has a point, blossoming out in the famous, ominous bass pedal towards the end. Under Toscanini, that pedal oscillation grinds away with chthonic energy, grounding the whirlwind above. The enthusiastic applause is well deserved indeed; this is one of Toscanini’s most vital Sevenths.


A fascinating release, as always from this source.


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