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CD Review

Great Conductors of the 20th Century

Arturo Toscanini

Helen Traubel
Nicola Moscona
Peter Wilhovsky Chorus
NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
EMI Great Conductors of the 20th Century 562939-2 2CDs 153m ADD
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This fine portrait of Arturo Toscanini resurrects some famous recordings but also provides additional rare material in the shape of Berlioz and Dvořák's Symphonic Variations. The recordings are never less than adequate; indeed some have come around sounding very clear and distortion free, belying the nominally dull acoustics of Carnegie Hall.

Toscanini brings fire and brimstone to Berlioz's 'French Judges' and he is packs a considerable wallop in Brahms' Fourth, although the hint of unsentimentality, is to my ears, rather unsuited to this memorable work. Dvořák's Symphonic Variations are indeed a pleasant surprise but again, overtly fast speeds tend to rob the music of its lyrical grandeur.

I greatly enjoyed Wagner's 'Rienzi' Overture; here is Toscanini at his brilliant best, whipping up the excitement at strategically important points in the work. The legendary 'Pastoral' is also very fine but here, I would yield to any one of Erich Kleiber's three magnificent accounts with the Czech Philharmonic, London Philharmonic or Vienna Philharmonic Orchestras, the latter two just released in a treasure trove box set from Decca (reviewed later in these pages).

Helen Traubel's Immolaion Scene from Wagner's apocalyptic 'Götterdämmerung' is also pretty impressive and the concluding opening chorus from Bellini's 'Norma' (also available on Guild) is worth having. Not one of the most desirable collections of this conductor's art then, but intriguing nonetheless, especially if you are still missing the Wagner and Beethoven in your collection.

Copyright © 2004, Gerald Fenech