Memorial Tribute to Toscanini = BACH: Brandenburg Concerto No. 2; Passacaglia and Fugue; VIVALDI: Concerto Grosso; ROSSINI: String Symphony No. 3 – Toscanini – Guild

by | Apr 16, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Memorial Tribute to Toscanini = BACH: Brandenburg Concerto no. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047; Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor for Organ (trans. Respighi); VIVALDI: Concerto Grosso in D Minor, Op. 3, No. 11, RV 565; ROSSINI: String Symphony No. 3 in C Major; Toscanini in Rehearsal, 1946-1952 – NBC Symphony Orchestra/ Arturo Toscanini
Guild GHCD 2364/65, 2 CDs  TT: 1:51:39 [Distr. By Albany] ****:
Entitled “In Memory of Arturo Toscanini issued by Walter Toscanini for his friends,” the first disc of this set reveals the Maestro in relatively early repertory, 18th Century music and its immediate beneficiary by way of youthful Rossini. The inclusion of the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 (29 October 1938) from Toscanini’s second season with the NBC Symphony reveals the disarmingly modern approach–with one player per part among the concertino–that incorporates a harpsichord into the texture. Bernard Baker provides the piccolo trumpet flourishes; while flute John Wummer, Robert Bloom, oboe, and Mischa Mischakoff, violin complement the corps (ripieno) of the NBC with fluid virtuosity both solo and in ensemble.
Bach’s massive Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 582 (22 November 1947) receives a driven account from Toscanini, a grand structure that rivals the more familiar Bach transcription by contemporary conductor Leopold Stokowski. The huge bass line exerts itself throughout, while the upper line cascades and sings in refined harmony. As opposed to the liner’s program, the Rossini Sonata a Quattro in C Major follows , a performance from 15 November 1952. The Maestro’s only realization of this charming work by the adolescent Rossini, the reading entirely projects a genial Mediterranean spirit – light, lithe, eminently clear in texture.
Toscanini had programmed Vivaldi’s D Minor Concerto Grosso from L’estro Armonico in his first season with he NBC, Christmas Day 1937. The interpretation offered here arrives late in Toscanini’s career (14 March 1954), not far from his retirement from the concert stage. The dark churning energy of the first movement allows us to savor the viola and cello section of the NBC strings in often solemn harmony. Toscanini takes the Largo e spiccato at a lugubriously measured pace, but the upper strings achieve a distilled beauty of regal power. Pungent intimacy reigns in the final Allegro, the strings in resplendent separation of parts, gritty in the continuo and panoramically grand in the ripieno or tutti responses.
Marcia Davenport (soprano Alma Gluck’s daughter)provides the narrative commentary for the rehearsal disc, a musical portrait of the Maestro at work. We join the immediate and personal circle of friends and colleagues who knew to what pains Maestro would exert to reach musical perfection, courtesy of Walter Toscanini. We hear a brief passage from Mozart’s Overture to the Magic Flute (5 November 1947), the detail to which Maestro broke down the phrase to accomplish a singing line and spontaneous expressiveness. “Make it smile–Allegro, allegri, con spirito” and Maestro slaps his own face after having sung the line himself in the fugato. A joke , a smile, a laugh–these moments debunk the myth of Toscanini’s “terrors” as a conductor. From the Beethoven Ninth (27 March 1952) we hear Maestro singing, urging the particular orchestral choir to sing with him. Here, the cello and bass fiddle line–recitativo–that opens the last movement. A brief dialogue with cellist Frank Miller about a diminuendo speaks volumes of the eighty-five-year-old conductor‘s passion and sympathy for this score. The Verdi excerpts embrace La Traviata, Act I-II (28 November 1946), the best-loved and most remembered music in opera houses of the day. Toscanini here sings all the vocalists’ roles, starting with the Brindisi. Next, the contrabassi alone to refine their sound. “Sempre libera” exacts from Toscanini the youthful brio of his own voice, done with ardor, just no “vocal ability.” Toscanini and the harp intone “mysterioso.” He drills the orchestra in Act II, sparing the singers because “the orchestra is no good.” He sings Alfredo’s aria. Germont’s plea and Violetta’s renunciation follow, all sung by Toscanini. To the orchestra, “You devour the notes like street musicians. Even Traviata can be played well.” And indeed it was and shall be.
N.B.: the liner inverts the Disc I program for the Vivaldi and Rossini pieces
— Gary Lemco

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