Music and Vision homepage



NBC Symphony Orchestra
conducted by Arturo Toscanini


Turntable Talk

The brash, naked sounds of the side-drum in La Gazza Ladra is simply vintage Toscanini. No other conductor (not even Beecham) could conjure such a sense of power in those opening staccatos, it is almost like a barrage of rifles going off! The speed is exhilarating, and the dashing Italianate charm is never far away. Zampa is similarly brilliant although here, I thought that the overture is too hard driven, in many ways I felt much more drawn to Geoffrey Toye's exquisite acoustic account (1923, Beulah), although that sound is primitive. But there are treasures of undoubted value in this magnificent Toscanini reissue. The Italian maestro was never very famous for his Strauss but the American NBC Orchestra could almost be the vintage VPO in this incredibly buoyant Blue Danube However the real highlight of this compilation is the mercurial account of The Hebrides, this is indeed vintage Mendelssohn. Once again, Beecham's pre-war LPO recording is the benchmark and if that has a greater sense of mystery and fascination, this 1940's version by the Italian giant, is so viscerally exciting that it could almost be Wagnerian in its passionate intensity. And there are further surprises in the Barber Adagio which carries an incredible amount of Latin warmth, all of this is married with a sense of glitziness that is almost disarming. Still, it is better to listen to this collection in fits and starts as it may contain something you had missed first time round! Toscanini's way with the Ponchielli piece is also amazing, here it really pays to have those legendary fast tempi applied to the grotesque happenings of La Gioconda. This leaves three items by Bizet, Prokofiev and Wolf-Ferrari. The Carmen-Suite is bubbly and also hard-driven with an almost frenetic Habanera. I’m afraid the Prokofiev Classical Symphony has to be ruled out of court for its disjointed and fragmentary nature, and it is ruthlessly driven along, to the general detriment of the work. But Il Segreto di Susanna is a miracle of warmth and fantastic pictorial invention, a gem to end a truly amazing CD. Symposium's remastering is laudable, the dry 40's recordings come up with an amazing amount of vitality although you can never really eliminate that infamous Studio 8-H cavernous acoustic. There is also a detailed chronology of Toscanini that highlights the important points of his career and some copious notes which make for essential reading. There has been a lot of hype in regard to Naxos' recent batch of Toscanini releases, but to my mind this takes the cake for a truly outstanding historical document.

Performance: 85%

Sound: 60%

Copyright © Gerald Fenech, February 17th 1999

NBC Symphony Orchestra / Arturo Toscanini
 Zampa Overture
La Gazza Ladra
Dance of the Hours
The Hebrides

Adagio for Strings
The Blue Danube
Il Segreto di Susanna
Carmen Suite No. 1
Symphony No. 1 Classical

Recorded 1942-45 (ADD)                    Playing time: 79m

More CD Reviews >>