BERLIOZ: Harold in Italy, Op. 16. Les Francs
Juges Overture. Love Scene
from Romeo and Juliet. Rakoczy March from The Damnation of Faust
BEETHOVEN: Missa Solemnis in D, Op. 123. Choral Fantasy, Op. 80.
These have been issued previously on Music & Arts; now we have them in new remasterings by Graham Newton at mid-price—but remember these weren't very good recordings sonically to begin with. Toscanini was particularly fond of Harold in Italy, performing it four times on NBC—this is the first one, from a concert January 2, 1939 with William Primrose, who then was principal viola with the orchestra, as soloist. Four years later, Primrose made the first commercial recording of Harold, with Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony. When Toscanini heard this recording he showed his disapproval of Koussevitzky's conducting, by commenting, "Poor Primrose, Poor Primrose." This magnificent 1939 performance, considered to be one of the finest ever made of the work, here is coupled with other Berlioz from a concert April 5, 1941. Toscanini's affection for the composer continued throughout his life—except for one major work: Symphonie fantastique which, aside from a few performances earlier in his career, he abandoned saying the only worthy sections were the last two movements.
For whatever reason, Toscanini didn't conduct Missa Solemnis until very late in his long career, but his belated enthusiasm for the work resulted in a dozen performances between 1934 and 1942, in New York, Vienna and London, including the one on this reissue with the NBC Symphony dating from December 28, 1940. Surely those interested in this music—and in Toscanini—will wish to investigate this live performance which is quite different from his 1953 RCA version. Recorded in Carnegie Hall, the sound is adequate to convey the performance but it remains a tragedy of the recording industry that one of the most important conductors of the century received invariably poor engineering with minimal bass, virtually no resonance. The NBC broadcast December 2, 1939 of Choral Fantasy was the only one Toscanini ever conducted of the work. The minimal piano part is played nervously by Ania Dorfman who was a friend of the conductor's family which doubtless accounts for her several appearances with the Maestro—including a recording of Beethoven's First Concerto in 1945. Sound on this recording is decidedly poor but collectors may wish to own this CD as it contains Beethoven otherwise unavailable in the Toscanini discography.
R.E.B. (October 2003)