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CD Review

Toscanini Conducts

* Carlton Cooley, viola
* Emanuel Feuermann, cello
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Opus Kura OPK7033
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This disc preserves some important performances, but may be hard to obtain in the United States. There are ways – I have a copy, after all – and Albany Music Distribution has done historical recording buffs a major favor by carrying Opus Kura from Japan. I imagine most people would go through the trouble of getting this disc for Feuermann, and that would be the right reason. The short-lived cello virtuoso left precious few documents of his art on record, and each one of them is special.

The Haydn is actually quite good. Though the winds are acidic and the NBC strings somewhat unattractive, the conductor shapes each phrase with stylish warmth and purpose. The early sound is less hissy than other programs on the same label, and allows Toscanini's purposeful and intense drive to shine. While the conductor permits the music to truly sing in the first three movements, the concluding finale is both rushed and ill-played. The limited sonic range makes the music sound merely garbled as opposed to exciting. In my mind, this rather charmless finish spoils an otherwise interesting interpretation.

The notes mention that the Strauss has never sounded especially good, and despite a lack of hiss, the NBC forces sound like something out of a Looney Tune. The brass have that cartoonish kick to them. The typically dry sound that Toscanini usually got hardly helps. Opus Kura makes mention of an electronic humming that was retained to preserve the lower frequencies of the orchestra. I don't really hear it, and the lower notes are indeed here. However you feel about the sound, you can hardly complain about Feuermann's tremendous cello playing. He beautifully interacts with his (mostly) inferior colleagues, and steals the show every chance he gets. Toscanini does what he can (his later recordings are generally yield far superior orchestral contributions), and at least his ensemble is unsurprisingly disciplined. While I can't recommend this for Toscanini, I can easily recommend this for Feuermann.

Copyright © 2015, Brian Wigman