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Great Conductors of the 20th Century: Arturo Toscanini

4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Audio CD, July 27, 2004
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Product Details

  • Performer: Peter Wilhovsky Chorus, NBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra
  • Orchestra: Ludwig van Beethoven, Vincenzo Bellini, Arturo Toscanini
  • Conductor: Richard Wagner
  • Composer: Helen Traubel, Nicola Moscona, Hector Berlioz, Antonin Dvorak, Giacomo Puccini, et al.
  • Audio CD (July 27, 2004)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: EMI Classics
  • ASIN: B00022UTPC
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #590,390 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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By Santa Fe Listener HALL OF FAME on May 21, 2006
Format: Audio CD
It was unthinkable when I was young that anyone but Toscanini could be synonymous with "maestro," but evolving technology and changing tastes have dimmed his supreme reputation. The rise of Bernstein and Karajan brought new glamur to the podium, and the resurrection of Furtwangler from post-Nazi neglect gave us a musician whose inspiration exceeded Toscanini's. Now, even though the bulk of his recordings are still available, Toscanini stands in the front rank of great historical figures rather than among those whose musicmaking sitll feels fully alive (this is only a gneralization; there are some Toscanini performances that will thrill listeners forever).

This installment in the Great Conductors of the Century series does Toscanini full justice, I think. We hear the passion and razor-sharp precision that so astonished early audiences, but also the tendency to be too strict with the beat, too heated and rushed in phrasing. The highlight of this 2-CD colleciton is a live 1948 Brahms Fourth that collectors consider to be first choice among Toscanini's NBC peformances. I am not a collector, but this reading, despite the expected cramaped, boxy mono sound, is flexible, precise, and clean. Toscanini's Brahms was never musty, and since he actually played for the composer, one feels a strong continuity with the past.

The big work on CD 2 is a familiar Beethhoven Pastorale with the BBC Sym., less hard-driving than his NBC remake but in antique sound, especially annoying since the first oboe is front and center, drowning out half the orchestra. The 1941 Immolation scene with Helen Traubel has good radio sound for its day, with the soloist placed close to the mike. She is stalwart and secure, and Toscanini accompanies with his customary intensity and refusal to revere Wagner.
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Format: Audio CD
It's a real pitty that the sound engineers could not make a better job with this 2 cd set (why not select recordings with a better sound?). I would love to hear Dvorak's Symphonic Variations and Brahms' 4th Symphony with a good (= decent) sound. Maybe another time. Recommended only for Toscanini collectors.
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Format: Audio CD
Despite the quality of most of the other sets in this laudable EMI series, this one is disappointing. The pieces are well chosen, but it sounds as though EMI were not able to find good sources for these rarities. The sound is certainly better somewhere else, so we have to listen through the poor recordings to hear Il Maestro. Still worth owning, but they could have done much better with this one.
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Format: Audio CD
Great series. Too bad they stopped at #40
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