BEETHOVEN:  Symphony No. 9 in D Minor "Choral" (Rec. July 24, 1941)
Judith Hellwig, soprano; Lydia Kindermann, alto; Rene Maison, tenor; Alexander Kipnis, bass; Teatro Colon Chorus and Orch/Arturo Toscanini, cond.
MUSIC & ARTS CD 1119 (F) (ADD) TT:  64:18

TCHAIKOVSKY:  Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Op. 74 "Pathétique." (Rec. Nov. 15, 1947).  Manfred Symphony, Op. 58 (Rec. Feb. 28, 1948).  PROKOFIEV:  Symphony No. 1 in D, Op. 25 "Classical." (Rec. Nov. 15, 1947). GLINKA:  Jota aragonesa (Rec. Feb. 28, 1948).  MUSSORGSKY-RAVEL:  Pictures at an Exhibition (Rec. Feb. 14, 1948).)

BEETHOVEN:  Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21.  Symphony No. 4 in B Flat, Op. 60. Leonore Overture No. 1
BBC Symphony Orch/Arturo Toscanini, cond.
NAXOS 8.110854 (B) (ADD) TT:  64:55


Toscanini fans surely will wish to investigate these issues, particularly the Beethoven Ninth, a performance recorded live July 24, 1941 in Teatro Colón, Buenos Aires.Toscanini had a long association with the Argentinian musical scene, first appearing there in 1901 and over a four-decade period conducting a wide range of operas. In 1940 he gave eight wildly-acclaimed concerts with the NBC Symphony when on their South American tour, and accepted the invitation to return the following year to conduct seven concerts with the Colón Orchestra, three featuring the Verdi Requiem, the other four Beethoven's Ninth. The volatile conductor was aware of weaknesses in the local orchestra and brought with him two trombones, two horns, and a trumpet (all from the Cleveland Orchestra), and Leonard Sharrow, principal bassoon of the NBC Symphony. Soloists for Erich Kleiber's opera season were still available; thus the fine soloists listed above including Alexander Kipnis in his only recording of the Ninth. Without doubt this is the most dynamic, exciting—and frantic—performances on record of Beethoven's masterpiece, very far from perfect in orchestral execution, with sound generally of poor quality—several missing sections had to be dubbed in—but this is the only way you're going to hear this performance. It's a full-price issue but that may not matter to Toscanini collectors.

The other set features music from Russia in "recently discovered best possible sound." I've made no attempt to keep track of the voluminous commercial, private and illegal issues of countless Toscanini performances; it could well be that these are the first issues of these broadcasst performances. However, "best possible sound" doesn't mean much—what is heard here is a thin, wirey orchestral sound with virtually no bass. Because of total lack of resonance in Studio 8H, strings are bodiless, cellos and double basses might just as well not be there. The performances are, aside from a scrappy opening to Prokofiev's Classical Symphony, typical Toscanini, but with inferior sound such as heard here, I derived little enjoyment from the set—which is sold at full-price.

After the above, listening to the Naxos issue was pure sonic balm. Recorded by HMV in Queen's Hall, London, in June 1939 and October 1937 (Symphony 1), almost a decade earlier than the Toscanini/NBC broadcasts, these have a superb natural sound expertly remastered from the original 78s by Mark Obert-Thorn, who in the CD notes describes difficulties involved and the necessity to utilize several different 78 rpm sources. Which again raises the question of what was RCA/NBC thinking when they continued to broadcast and record from the infamous Studio 8H, where an orchestra is stripped of most of its intrinsic beauty of sound. At any rate, Toscanini and the BBC Orchestra had a fine rapport as evidenced by these somewhat relaxed but beautifully played Beethoven performances. It's a budget-price CD as well.

R.E.B. (July 2003)