Performances of Wagner’s music 1940-1953 under Toscanini, who had discovered the potent mysteries of this composer while a cellist in Parma, Italy. The revelatory piece is doubtless the Tannhauser Prelude to Act III (29 November 1953), published by Novello, which Wagner had discarded for performance because of its significant length. As a concert piece, it projects an heraldic, moody force, a rather sternly, declamatory opposition to the sensual elements seducing our protagonist. That Toscanini programmed the work (his third presentation of his tenure with the NBC) for his final season with the orchestra indicates his especial fondness for this otherwise unplayed postscript to Wagner’s legacy.
The all-Wagner concert opens with a fiery Overture to The Flying Dutchman (31 March 1946), an audacious choice, considering the proximity to the end of WW II. From the opening D Minor chords, we are in the throes of a tempest of considerable muscular power. Toscanini concludes with a strange amalgam of themes from Parsifal (23 March 1940), a juxtaposition of diverse, even anomalous, elements from the three acts of the opera. What one cannot question, however, is the intense sincerity of affect Toscanini achieves in this highly subjective assemblage, from the broadly conceived Act I Prelude to the turgid Act II and febrile, resigned Act III Preludes, then to Klingsor’s Magic Garden and the Act III Finale, whose Dresden Amen spills an aural balm on all it touches. The exotic music from Klingsor’s Garden sounds like a French tone-poem or an anticipation of the music of Bax. Except for the occasionally thin string tone, the tempos Toscanini adopts would not indicate that his approach is so radically distant from the German school, a la Knappertsbusch and Furtwaengler. Wonderful control of the diaphanous chords that conclude the Act I Prelude then segue into the Good Friday Spell. The quotations from the Act I Prelude become incandescently subdued, implosive, while a ravishing oboe takes us into a sacred space. Compelling and mandatory listening for any Toscanini buff and Wagner acolyte.
— Gary Lemco