SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 97 “Rhenish”; RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloe–Suite No. 2; RESPIGHI: Feste Romane – NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini – Opus Kura

by | May 31, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 97 “Rhenish”; RAVEL: Daphnis et Chloe–Suite No. 2; RESPIGHI: Feste Romane – NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini

Opus Kura OPK 7052, 71:05 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Three inscriptions from 1949 grace this fine restoration, especially as Arturo Toscanini kept a tight rein on each of these scores. The microphone placement for the 12 November 1949 Rhenish Symphony (live broadcast from Studio 8-H) may be a factor in the relatively narrow dynamic range of the performance, since pianissimo seems a rare bird among the avian sonorities Toscanini produces. The whirlwind approach to the first movement loses something of colorist grandeur inspired by the Cologne Cathedral, and few conductors have captured the arched pageantry of Leonard Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic inscription. The aggression and feral drive in Toscanini’s reading, however, has its merits for visceral excitement and aristocratic clarity in the polyphonic lines.

The happy interaction of cellos and woodwind lines produce a warmer resonance for the second movement Scherzo, an animated march with occasional strings’ trills. The French horn and brass section suffer a loss of pitch detail, but the forward clarinets and flutes shine through. Toscanini’s martial pacing becomes quite stern, the tympani thunderous in its transition to the da capo. Some lovely harmonies emerge as the texture thins, only to revive itself in heraldic pomp and splendor. The succeeding Intermezzo (Nicht Schnell) bestows a relative serenity upon the score, with Toscanini’s permitting a moment of Mediterranean sun upon the German landscape. Several of the bass undercurrents and minor scales already hint at the D Minor Symphony.

A strong sense of Bach polyphony suffuses the Feierlich movement, that most obviously indebted to the Cologne Cathedral architecture. Toscanini’s string line proves quite intense, the horns and winds moving in upward scales and modal progressions that had to have influenced Mahler. The NBC brass do achieve impressive heights, and we can only wish the recording venue could have better represented Toscanini’s sterling sonic patina. The last movement enjoys a voluptuous sound from Toscanini’s cellos, the brass and winds in dotted rhythms and rural harmony to produce a vividly spirited rendition of a consistently jubilant score.

The Daphnis et Chloe suite (21 November 1949) derives from a studio recording from Carnegie Hall, where the natural acoustic presents a world of aural benefits. The colors possess both warmth and voluptuousness. The upper woodwind and string sound–the flute as well as the harp–mark quite a glory of the recording art, and Toscanini holds the panoply of Arcadian evocation in his knowing hands. A bass grumble intrudes in this recording, taken from the HMV LP.  The disappearance and later re-appearance of this low vibration suggests the insertion of a second take. Still, the radiance and exuberant wash of this inscription quite take one’s breath away, the virtuosity of the NBC in the final dance quite overpowering and likely inspired the reading of this score by acolyte Guido Cantelli. 

The disc ends with a Toscanini specialty, the 1926 Feste Romane (12 December 1949 in Carnegie Hall), the last of the so-called “Roman Trilogy” of Ottorino Respighi, which Toscanini had premiered in New York. Given the delay in issuing Toscanini’s 1942 reading with the Philadelphia Orchestra, this pioneering version became the official first recording; and massive it is, pushing to the limits the audio technology of the period to capture its gargantuan panorama. The NBC trumpets invoke the Roman Circuses, bloody gladiatorial events that pit Christian martyrs against beasts and murderous men. The organ pedal at the movement’s conclusion can only bode the decisiveness of fate. The Jubilee celebrates a more reflective tradition as pilgrims gaze upon Mount Mario, the ostinati bass and woodwind plainchant rising in ecstatically spectacular harmonies among tolling bells. The October Harvest has Toscanini’s French horn and battery (especially bells and chimes) sections invoking the Goddess Ceres, the spirit of fertility and  Nature’s bounty. A mandolin provides the element of human love in the midst of these Dionysiac rites. The bacchanalia triumphs in the Epiphany movement, with Toscanini’s pulling out anything like restraints, so that trumpets, strings, battery, and tympani can revel in drunken splendor, a tenor trombone enacting the reeling stupors of the inebriants. When the final chord crashes down, we feel the earth shake with the besotted Glory that was Rome.

— Gary Lemco

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