Reviews for IPCD 1086–2
THE VICTOR RECORDINGS RESTORED
TOSCANINI PHILHARMONIC-SYMPHONY SOCIETY OF NEW YORK: The Victor Records Restored • Arturo Toscanini, cond; New York P • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1087-3 AAD (211:31)
ROSSINI L’italiana in Algeri: Overture. Il barbiere di Siviglia: Overture. Semiramide: Overture. HAYDN Symphony No. 101. MOZART Symphony No. 35. MENDELSSOHN A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Scherzo. BEETHOVEN Symphonies Nos. 5 and 7. VERDI La traviata: Preludes to Acts I and III. GLUCK Orfeo ed Euridice: Dance of the Blessed Spirits. DUKAS L’apprenti sorcier. BRAHMS Variations on a Theme by Haydn. WAGNER Lohengrin: Preludes to Acts I and III. Götterdämmerung: Siegfried’s Rhine Journey. Siegfried Idyll
November / December 2017
The Toscanini-NYP recordings document a conductor at the height of his energy and powers and able to call upon the benefit of a lifetime of experience, leading one of the world’s great ensembles, also at the peak of its artistry. To be sure, the attributes of Toscanini’s famous NBC SO recordings are present here as well; the breathtaking precision of execution, a lyrical, singing tone, a magnificent grasp of a work’s proportion and architecture, and perhaps above all, a stunning drive and momentum. But the NYP recordings document a Toscanini far more willing to explore expansive tempos, as well as a liberal application of rubato, and even string portamento. Indeed, I often wonder how many who are unfamiliar with these recordings would first identify Toscanini as the conductor. In addition, even though the Toscanini-NYP recordings are from an earlier vintage than their NBC SO counterparts, they exhibit a warmer and more attractive acoustic. In later years, Toscanini preferred a more analytical, “close-up” recording perspective, one that he could especially achieve in NBC’s Studio 8H. The Toscanini-NYP recordings, made in New York’s fabled Carnegie Hall, possess ample detail, but also a glow and warmth often absent from the later efforts. Throughout, the Toscanini-NYP recordings document music-making on an exalted level. Many of the recordings (the Beethoven Seventh, the Brahms Haydn Variations, the Rossini Semiramide Overture, and the Verdi La traviata and Wagner Lohengrin and Götterdämmerung excerpts) remain unsurpassed. In short, if you have any tolerance for historic recordings, the Toscanini-NYP discs should form a cornerstone of your orchestral collection.
We’re fortunate that these precious recordings have been well served by sound restoration artists who specialize in historic material. I am familiar with three previous comprehensive reissues of the Toscanini-NYP recordings. The first is a 1989 Pearl set, remastered by Mark Obert-Thorn. Obert-Thorn also remastered the recordings for Naxos Historical (released 2001–02), a set that includes numerous alternative takes, as well as a 1931 concert performance of the Beethoven Fifth (all of the issues under discussion feature a 1933 concert Beethoven Fifth). Ward Marston remastered the recordings for the official RCA Red Seal release, most recently as part of the 2012 Arturo Toscanini: The Complete RCA Collection. Both Obert-Thorn and Marston achieve predictably brilliant results in their restorations, each providing a worthy representation of these great recordings. Still, there are perceptible differences. The Pearl set has lovely warmth, detail, and balance, but the tuttis are a bit compressed. That latter aspect is improved in the subsequent Naxos Historical set. The RCA set has more immediacy and presence than the Pearl and Naxos releases, but the sound becomes a bit more strident in the higher frequencies and climaxes. I think Richard Caniell has achieved the best of both worlds in his new restoration for Immortal Performances. Caniell’s remasterings have a marvelous warmth, spaciousness, and detail, coupled with impressive (and often hair-raising) presence and impact in the grand orchestral moments. I must emphasize that in comparing the various restorations, we are dealing uniformly with achievements of the highest level. That said, the new Immortal Performances set becomes my first choice to hear the great Toscanini-NYP recordings in all their sonic glory.
The accompanying booklet for the Immortal Performances set includes documentary information on the various recordings, as well as insightful essays by John Sullivan and Richard Caniell. For the finest sonic representation of these unique, glorious recordings, the front-runner in a most impressive field is Immortal Performances.