Toscanini Recordings

Recommended by B. H. Haggin

The performances Carboni remembers are, in their various ways, among Toscanini’s greatest achievements. As against the usual performance of a Verdi opera, in which the conductor fits the orchestral part around the singers’ exhibitionistic distortions of the vocal parts, Toscanini offers the singers’ correctly shaped phrases fitted into the plastically coherent shape he gives to the orchestral part. The result—whether it is the Otello (RCA Victor LM-6107) or the Aïda (LM-6132) remembered by Carboni, the La Traviata (LM-6003) described by Peerce, the Falstaff (LM-6111) they should have mentioned — is a realization of the work unequaled by any other on records in beauty and expressive effect. Nor is there a performance of Verdi’s Requiem equal in these respects to the one Carboni mentions (LM-6018).

On the other hand, the Skaters Waltz and Zampa Overture he remembers are only two of the examples of the amazing results of Toscanini’s application to such “pop" numbers of the same feeling for modeling of melodic phrase, clarity of outline and texture, coherence of structure that he applied to the great works of Verdi and Beethoven — another outstanding example being the Dance of the Hours from La Gioconda. (The Zampa and Dance of the Hours are included on RCA Victor LM-1834; the Skaters Waltz is on LM-1896, with a wonderfully fresh and alive Tchaikovsky Nutcracker Suite.)

As with Verdi, so with Beethoven: there is no performance of the Missa Solemnis (LM-6G25) comparable with Toscanini’s; none of Fidelio (LM-6013) that paces and shapes it as effectively as his (others have better singers); none that equal his of the symphonies (LM6901) (if acquired singly, the Eroica on LM-2387 is to be preferred to the one on LM-1042).

And so with the Schubert Symphony No. 9 (the one recorded with the Philadelphia Orchestra on LD-2663), the complete Berlioz Romeo and Juliet (LM-7034), the Brahms Variations on a Theme of Haydn (LM-1725), the Brahms Symphony No. 2 (LM-1731), the Brahms Symphony No. 4 (LM-1713), the Wagner excerpts (LM6020), the Dvorak New World Symphony (LM-1778). Only Cantelli produced performances of Rossini’s overtures comparable with Toscanini’s (LM-2040), a Tchaikovsky Pathétique Symphony comparable with his (poorly reproduced on LM-1036), a Debussy La Mer as beautiful as his (damaged by electronic “enhancement” on LM-1833). And his Debussy Ibéria (LM-1833) is still without equal.

Several other great performances, withdrawn in recent years, may be among those RCA Victor is planning to reissue in 1967 in celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Toscanini’s birth: Mozart’s Divertimento K.287, Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (poorly recorded), Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, Tchaikovsky’s Manfred, Strauss’s Don Quixote.