, March 2005
“Many of the recent Toscanini re–issues have been Carnegie Hall recordings. Restoration engineers have tended to shy away from the more notorious Studio 8H tapes. Rumour holds that these are all brash, and subject to all of the limitations of the extremely dry acoustic for which the studio was infamous. This disc will go a long way to dispel these myths which were probably due to poor transfers to vinyl in days gone by.
In addition, it is now well known that Toscanini’s record producers, being somewhat in awe of the Maestro were unable to persuade him to moderate his then extremely rapid tempi. There is a famous story, told after his death, that Walter Legge told him that his tempi were all too extreme. The conductor was supposed to have said that he wished his own record producers had had the courage to talk to him like that.
On this CD we have all of the hallmarks of Toscanini at about this time: aggressive phrasing and high speeds. What we don’t have however is the harsh unyielding sound of the now old vinyl pressings. True, the acoustic is somewhat drier than the Carnegie Hall recordings but it is not in the least unattractive. In any event the compensation is a ‘no nonsense’ presentation of the composers’ scores, without an ounce of sentimentality in sight.
The Haydn 88th particularly gains from this approach, and whilst it in no way displaces Furtwängler’s Berlin Philharmonic recording from 1951, it gives an altogether different approach to the score. The Mozart 40th is in much the same vein with fast speeds and no lingering. It is well known that at the time of these recordings, the NBC Orchestra had just been established by the NBC to take advantage of the enormous commercial potential of the classical music radio concerts. How things have changed!
After the two symphonies, there are what could be considered three short encores. These are all brilliantly played and show just what a virtuoso orchestra the NBC ensemble was at its inception. Apart from two Beethoven symphonies these are all first recordings made by the orchestra in Studio 8H. They were to move to Carnegie Hall in May 1940, so if you want to hear what these old recordings sound like do go ahead. You will be in for some direct, unfussy performances at an extremely low outlay, which will impress you greatly. Of this I have no doubt.”