Arturo Toscanini Anthology 1 = BRAHMS: Hungarian Dances; THOMAS: Mignon Overture; CATALANI: La Wally Prelude, Act IV; Loreley: Dance of the Water Nymphs; DONIZETTI: Don Pasquale Ov.; PONCHIELI: La Gioconda: Dance of the Hours – with NBC Sym. – Opus Kura

by | Feb 16, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Arturo Toscanini Anthology 1 = BRAHMS: Hungarian Dances Nos. 1, 17, 20, 21; THOMAS: Mignon Overture;  CATALANI La Wally Prelude, Act IV; Loreley: Act II Dance of the Water Nymphs; DONIZETTI: Don Pasquale Overture; PONCHIELI: La Gioconda: Dance of the Hours; HEROLD: Zampa! Overture; DUKAS: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – NBC Symphony Orchestra – Arturo Toscanini

Opus Kura OPK 7046, 65:17 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Lighter selections from the vast Toscanini repertoire recorded 1950-1953 grace this sweetly restored album, a compendium of brisk materials chosen for the virtuosity of their encore capacities. Fortunately, the brunt of the inscriptions derive from Carnegie Hall, only the Sorcerer’s Apprentice having been recorded in the too-dead Studio 8-H.  For example, the Brahms gypsy style was not particularly to Toscanini’s taste, yet he imparts an infectious panache into his 1953 traversal of those Hungarian dances orchestrated by either Brahms or Dvorak. In the volcanic G Minor, we perceive that Toscanini allowed some glissandi and portamenti in the string line he would be loath to the Toscanini permit in the Brahms symphonic canon. If the F-sharp Minor Andantino suffers a stodginess in the martial episodes, it certainly glides in the lyrical trio. The last two dances, both in E Minor, move with the Toscanini bass pulse that always bristles with explosive potential.

The 1866 Mignon Overture (after Goethe) of Ambroise Thomas (rec. 1952) exploits the best of the NBC strings, French horn, and woodwind sound and an extended harp cadenza. The innately bel canto nature of the melodic line appeals to Toscanini’s taste and sonically intense balances. The music of Alfredo Catalani (1854-1893) held a special place for Toscanini, who named his own daughter Wally, after Catalani’s 1892 opera. The studied harmonies of the Act IV Prelude tremble with presages of tragedy, the heroine eventually hurtling herself into an avalanche. The 1890 Loreley features the Act II Dance of the Undines, influenced by Ponchielli and perhaps Massenet. The NBC trumpet and strings provide a magical sheen to the diaphanous music. As for Ponchielli’s eternal Dance of the Hours, the Toscanini clarity of articulation–especially in the violas and cellos–and incisive rhythmic thrust perform at maximum overdrive, the vocal line a model of classical phrasing.

The 1952 inscription of Herold’s 1831 Zampa! Overture is nothing short of colossal, the NBC tremolos and Gallic “whistling” effects in strings and winds immediately answered by the most rustic of invocations to the protagonist, a pirate who finds himself borne away by the marble statue of a girl he had ruined romantically. The last pages fuse Rossini gestures to anticipations of Verdi in one white-hot mix. In a rare concession to the comic muse, Toscanini inscribed Donizetti’s 1843 Overture to Don Pasquale in 1952. Deft figures from the NBC woodwinds and tympani make the music sparkle, though the strings indicate the love between Ernesto and Norina with suave affection. Lastly, more Goethe, this time via the 1897 Paul Dukas symphonic poem whose brilliant orchestration allows Toscanini and the NBC every latitude for explosive enchantment, even beyond the wonderful 1929 recording Toscanini inscribed with the New York Philharmonic.

–Gary Lemco

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