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Fanfare, July 2005

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John Quinn
MusicWeb International, April 2005

“The transfers derive from pre–war U.S. Victor “Gold” label 78s. Engineer Mark Obert–Thorn has done an excellent job and I doubt that these performances have ever been available in better sound. Toscanini’s way with Mozart and Haydn may not be to all tastes, for some find him too aggressive in this repertoire. I’ve had the same view of some of his recordings of such music but I found the performances here to be direct and bracing and I enjoyed them. This is an interesting and recommendable CD that captures the great conductor at the start of the last phase of his career.”

John Phillips
MusicWeb International, 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.”

Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, March 2005

“Naxos has collated Toscanini’s first NBC recordings, made in Studio 8–H between March 1938 and April 1939. The results may surprise those unfamiliar with his art, not only inasmuch as the repertoire is familiar from his earlier NYPSO recordings (of which these NBC ones were in pretty direct emulation) but also because of the air of geniality and easy–going lyricism that runs throughout. Toscanini was an under–rated Haydn conductor and his G major Symphony is an example of his relaxed and affectionate insight into the repertoire. The first movement is smilingly fluent and the accents, maybe surprisingly, are not at all trenchant. Similarly the fortissimo outbursts in the second movement are strongly calibrated and the Minuet plays up the rusticity well. The basses make their presence felt (aided by 8–H’s notorious clarity) and though it’s not the wittiest traversal on record — wit was not much his forte — Toscanini does give due weight to the pedal (an open fifth) underscoring the oboe’s line.

All this and more applies to the G minor of Mozart. It’s as if his antipode, Furtwängler, had changed the conductor’s name on the record labels. The opening is leisurely, though the dynamics are strong (though never trenchant) with finely graded crescendi and diminuendi. The Andante is rather elegant with a rather pomposo bass line and altogether more rococo than one might have expected from Toscanini. One of the faults in the recording is a bit of spread in the horns in the Minuet, taken with a heavy clip. The Beethoven shows off his new orchestra’s string section but there are moments when 8–H sabotages the Rossini — especially the percussion.

The transfers have dealt well with the problematic acoustic; no semblance of added warmth has been added and the copies used were Victor “Gold” pressings. Mark Obert–Thorn has retained a certain degree of surface noise but it’s perfectly acceptable.”

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