GERSHWIN: Rhapsody in Blue (Benny Goodman, clarinetist/Earl Wild, pianist);
Concerto in F (Oscar Levant, pianist); LOEFFLER: Memories of My Childhood.
CRESTON: Chorus Dance No. 2, Op. 17. GOULD: A Lincoln Legend. MIGNONE:
Festa das igrejas
VERDI: Requiem Mass
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Symphony No. 9 in E minor. RIEGGER: New
18b. HOVHANESS: Mysterious Mountain, Op. 132. CRESTON: Toccata,
Op. 68 (Carnegie Hall concert Sept. 25, 1958)
What treasures there are here! Toscanini's 1947 broadcast of Verdi's Otello is legendary. The only weak principal singer is Herva Nelli, but she is adequate. Vinay and Valdengo are magnificent, but the real star is Toscanini who elicits a incredibly dynamic performance from the NBC orchestra. This recording has been issued before on CD, but this new issue easily is the finest-sounding of all. Profuse program notes include a detailed commentary by William H.Youngren. There also is an article by Herbert F. Peyser originally in Musical America entitled "Toscanini Conducts Matchless Othello," although he does go a bit overboard in describing Nelli as superior to Nellie Melba. The entire well-filled (68:30) third CD is devoted to excerpts from rehearsals for the broadcasts plus a six-minute interview with Ramon Vinay, who sang the title role. We also have comments by Richard Caniell who did a magnificent job sonically in restoring life into what originally was not a very good recording. Also included is broadcast commentary by Ben Grauer and a six-minute interview with Vinay who describes his meeting with Toscanini when the conductor asked him to sing the role, and mentions that he already had sung quite often the role of Iago as well as Othello. There is no libretto.
The two CDs of American music contain complete broadcasts of November 1, 1942 and April 2, 1944. The major works are Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue (with Benny Goodman and Earl Wild) and the Piano Concerto in F (with Oscar Levant in top form). The other works are minor Americana at best, but it's good to have them available, as well as complete broadcast commentary. This recording of Rhapsody has appeared on CD before, but this is the first appearance of this major performance of the Concerto in F. The sound is adequate, hard and unresonant, typical of NBC 8-H broadcasts.
Of major interest to Toscanini aficionados is the Testament issue of the historic May 27, 1938 live performance of Verdi's Requiem recorded in Queen's Hall. This has been issued privately several times before on LP but always in excruciating sound; now we have it from the best possible source, a marked sonic improvement, with two CDs for the price of one full-price disk. All three Toscanini sets are essential for admirers of this volatilile Italian conductor.
Leopold Stokowski's discography is enhanced by this splendid Cala release of a complete concert given in Carnegie Hall September 25, 1958. This concert was sponsored by the Contemporary Music Society, one of a series of broadcasts arranged by Oliver Daniel, whose fine biography of the conductor was published in 1982. The concert also marked Stokowski's 50th Anniversay as a conductor (he was 76 at the time) and originally was to include Symphony No. 11 by Shostakovich, which the conductor had premiered in America in Houston earlier that year. When Stokowski heard of Vaughan Williams' death it was decided to play the composer's last symphony at the concert, which was the American premiere, another in a long list of Stokowski premieres, both U.S. and world. The conductor had commissioned Mysterious Mountain from Hovhaness for his 1955 debut concert with the Houston Symphony and as Stokowski never made a commercial recording of the work, this Cala CD is particularly valuable. The other American works on the program are surely pleasant enough, but not of much substance in spite of the conductor's advocacy. Apparently this was a Voice of America broadcast—credits are given to them and to the Library of Congress. Paschal Byme of The Audio Archiving Company Ltd. of London did the digital mastering of what obviously was a very good tape to begin with. Orchestral sound is sumptuous, well-balanced and very clear, with vivid percussion. Highly recommended! Let us hope there will be more of these Stokowski treasures uncovered.
R.E.B. (October 2004)