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Jed Distler, January 2002

"Astute collectors of 78s pay close attention to disc pressings just as wine connoisseurs scrutinize particular vintages. Over the years that certain recordings remained in print, the metal masters of some original sides would wear out, making it necessary for record companies to substitute any alternate takes that existed in their vaults. Such was the case for three out of six Toscanini/New York Philharmonic selections on this disc. Consequently, as producer Marc Obert-Thorn points out, entire generations have become familiar with some of these recordings through takes that were not the ones originally chosen for release.

All published takes appear in chronological order and in context. This means that each of the three for side one of Rossini's Barber of Seville Overture is joined with the sole second-side take to make a complete performance. Do the alternate versions yield substantial interpretive differences? Not necessarily. In the case of the Gluck Dance of the Blessed Spirits, the originally issued take boasts the clearest sonics and most fluid version of John Amans' flute solo. The third take of the La Traviata Act 3 Prelude was rejected for technical reasons in favor of the familiar fourth version. I prefer the latter for its greater delicacy and cleaner balances in the opening measures, although both takes attest to the Philharmonic violin section's breathtaking unanimity.

You can split hairs over tiny details of articulation and ensemble attacks between the three Barber of Seville Overture 'side ones'. But the Maestro's controlled freedom and vocally oriented phrasing leave no room for criticism. And what more can we add to the justifiable adulation lavished upon Toscanini's miraculously poised and profoundly detailed L'Italiana in Algeri and Semiramide Overtures, both achieved in single takes at the same April 10, 1936 session? ...Obert-Thorn's well-equalized restorations certainly won't disappoint collectors wishing to follow the Maestro's work in progress, so to speak, via alternate takes. ...this disc makes an ideal and inexpensive gift for the Toscanini buff in your family who claims to have 'everything'."

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