ARTURO TOSCANINI - ESSENTIAL COLLECION
ARTURO TOSCANINI / NBC SYMPHONHY ORCHESTRTA
ARTURO TOSCANINI / NEW YORK PHILHARMONIC
ARTURO TOSCANINI / PHILADELPHIA ORCHESTRA
My friend Charles Gerhardt had a brief working relationship with Arturo Toscanini many years ago. Gerhardt, working for RCA, was assigned to work with Toscanini playing test pressings of RCA Toscanini recordings for his approval. Gerhard in later years became a major figure on the music scene making countless recordings of a wide range of repertory for Reader's Digest and RCA, including the Classic Film Score Series (REVIEW). For more information about this remarkable musician, check our FEATURE .He enjoyed associating with the Maestro, but found that he knew little about the recording process and was disappointed with results achieved by the RCA engineering crew. And rightfully so! It is one of the tragedies of the recording industry that RCA with access to one of the world's great conductors and a first-class orchestra, should be so inept from a technical standpoint.
Whoever planned this Toscanini tribute obviously was misguided. One would think that a compilation of "essential Toscanini" would include primarily his finest recordings, but that is not the case here. Of course some of the Maestro's finer RCA recordings are here. For whatever reason, producers have include some of the Maestro's Philadelphia Orchestra recordings, which were all poorly engineered and the masters damaged in transit. Listening to Feste romane is particularly disturbing—it sounds rather like an acoustic recording with no bass, no dynamic range, and a fuzzy sonic picture. Nor is it a tribute to the great Philadelphia Orchestra with a major trumpet blurtp in the final pages. Toscanini also recorded this Respighi classic with the NBC Symphony, with far better audio; surely this is the one that should have been included. The other Philadelphia recordings (Schubert / Debussy) are slightly better sonically, but still poor. Perhaps one of these deserves inclusion, but surely not the Respighi debacle.
We do have three complete opera performances (Otello, La Bohème, Falstaff) and excerpts from Orfeo ed Euridice and Rigoletto all fine examples of the conductor's art. It seems odd that the best-balanced and most realistic sound is heard on the New York Philharmonic disks made circa 1929. Of course there are many valuable performances here; all have been issued many times previously. Here they are in a boxed set which contains a 64-page book with brief information about Toscanini in English, German and French. All-in-all, even at budget price, a disappointing issue for reasons stated.
R.E.B. (March 2017)