Arturo Toscanini = ATTERBERG: Symphony No. 6; BARBER: Adagio for Strings; FERNANDEZ: Reisado do pastoreio Butuque; R. STRAUUS: Don Juan; RAVEL: La Valse = NBC Symphony/Arturo Toscanini
Guild GHCD 2348, 71:13 [Distr. by Albany] **** :
At least two of the works presented here under the direction of Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957) will appeal to collectors of the more esoteric works in the Maestro’s repertory, the Kurt Atterberg Sixth Symphony (21 November 1943) and the Afro-Brazilian color piece Reisado do pastoreio Butuque (14 May 1940) by Oscar Lorenzo Fernandez. The Swedish composer Atterberg original composed his Sixth Symphony (1928) as a completion entry: a ten-thousand dollar prize had been offered by the English Columbia Gramophone Company for a submission that utilized a Schubert theme or to someone who might complete the Unfinished Symphony. Sir Thomas Beecham led the world premier, though Atterberg inscribed his own quicker version in Berlin.
Toscanini discovered the Sixth Symphony on the piano of the composer’s home and asked if he might study it; he gave his one performance in New York with the NBC. The brash and energetic Moderato that opens the work conveys a distinctly Scandinavian ethos, clearly nodding to Sibelius for color elements. Toscanini molds the music for its martial and muscular exterior lines, but he does not short-change the romantic tendencies for melodic and atmospheric expression. The NBC brass and percussion sections have their moments, as do the flute and tympani. The audience claps enthusiastically after the movement ends. The Adagio wants a degree of mystery to begin, an atmosphere of haunted brooding, almost stealthy. The music opens up as serenade or pastoral over a grumbling bass line, the effects rather ornately lush, even as the middle section becomes exotic in the manner of Respighi. The last movement Vivacity enjoys a perky academicism, opting for a busy fugato, almost per expectation. The thick textures dissipate, and Toscanini can elicit some lovely transparent sounds that vaguely remind us of the finale to the Shostakovich Fifth, only with less emotional duress and more humor.
The remainder of the disc devotes itself to the broadcast from Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., organized by the Pan American Council to promote a South American tour by Toscanini and the NBC. A broadly conceived Adagio for Strings by Barber not only reveals its innate searing beauties and inner voicings but reminds us well of the Torelli Concerto Grosso that inspired it. The Batuque by Fernandez (1897-1948) is Toscanini’s homage to Buenos Aires in particular, a pulsating, steamy invocation of the untamed civilization whose history includes some savage altars. The Don Juan rates high among Toscanini’s several realizations of a favorite score, beautifully paced, sensuous, undulant in the manner of erotic Wagner. The late pages play like a concertante piece for trumpet and orchestra, the scale as brilliant as anything by Koussevitzky.
Finally, a scintillating La Valse, as rife with Mediterranean Latin flavor as it is nostalgic for Vienna. The variations proceed with bravura energy, the touches of modulation and timbre adjustment hinting at the maturity, decay, and final apocalypse of the dance form itself. The tone of the NBC violas remains bittersweet, the trumpets soon replacing the flutes as the intensified glissandi whirl us in a danse macabre. The spectacular last page leaves us and the original audience both agog and delighted with Toscanini’s unerring management of controlled chaos.