Naxos Historical 8.110877 73:19 ****:
Inscribed 1937-1938, these performances by Arturo Toscanini and the BBC Symphony mark a real coup, musically and historically. Toscanini had been unknown in Britain until 1930, when he appeared with the New York Philharmonic’s tour in 1930. Adrian Boult, whose own style and tastes often reflected the Nikisch-Toscanini influence, invited the Maestro to appear for the 1935 spring festival, and again for 1937-1939, many of the glories of which can still be acquired via BBC Legends (BBCL 4016), which includes the 1939 Missa Solemnis, and the 1935 Beethoven Seventh, the Mozart Haffner Symphony, and Cherubini’s Anakreon Overture. These were Toscanini’s first collaborations with a British orchestra, and despite his repute as a fierce and temperamental disciplinarian, morale on all sides remained high.
The Pastoral Symphony, recorded over several sessions June-October 1937, enjoys a liquid fluidity of execution, especially in the 12/8 Andante con moto, a serene paean to Nature in the most transcendental sense. If the opening movement moves rather too briskly, Toscanini compensates by indulging his cellos and woodwinds in a long and spontaneous orison to inner peace through natural beauty. The strong string accents and deft pulsation, even the occasional portamenti, emerge from the ancient shellacs with startling clarity, all the magic of Mark Obert-Thorn’s brilliant restoration. Just wait until you hear what Obert-Thorn has done with the 1938 Invitation to the Dance! Lovely ensemble in the Peasant’s Dance of the Pastoral Symphony, with clarinet, flute, horn, and droning bassoon, a rustic moment out of Breughel. The Thunderstorm Allegro is a tight-lipped affair, with wonderful subito effects and amazingly threatening basses, celli, horns, and tympani. Toscanini’s splendidly vocal penchant dominates both the Hymn of Thanksgiving and the second subject in the 1937 Tragic Overture in D Minor by Brahms, trying hard to be a dramatic piece by Verdi.
A vehement Mozartian, Toscanini urges the 1938 Magic Flute Overture forward, not sacrificing the aura of mystery with which it opens. Bassoon and lower strings take us from Masonic shadow into the quick-silvered light, often exploding intensely with Jovian humor. If the Rossini Silken Ladder Overture (13 June 1938) extends the deft leggierissimo and sinuous line Toscanini could educe from his British players, the Weber (14 June 1938) plays as a bravura exercise in orchestral discipline, a whirlwind of color from opening cello to the buoyant waltz rhythms; superheated acetates only a step away from Don Giovanni’s own ballroom! Toscanini plays the Brahms Overture fro its sturm und drang, at times a moment from Gluck’s Orfeo, at times a contrapuntal spasm after Beethoven. What power there is in these old 78s when engineers know how to coax the genie from its bottle!
— Gary Lemco