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CD Review

Music For Freedom / Concert for the Liberation of Italy

NBC Symphony Orchestra/Arturo Toscanini
Guild GHCD2298/9 138m ADD 2CDs Rec: 1940-43
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Guild continues to put historical enthusiasts into their debt with another outstanding issue in the Toscanini Broadcast Legacy series, this time with two concerts dating from 1940 and 1943 respectively. Both have the maestro on top form, especially the latter dedicated to the Liberation of Italy in September 1943 from the Fascist yoke.

The 'Holberg Suite' dances along quite impressively with the NBC players definitely on top form although the sound is rather constricted, an inevitable drawback in 1940 definitely. However the most fascinating discovery, at least for this listener, was the blazing performance of Sibelius' Fourth Symphony, a real voyage of discovery, as one would have it. The rehearsal sequences demonstrate the conductor's immediate empathy with the music and this relay can rank amongst the very best recordings available, including Sir Thomas Beecham's celebrated 1939 and 1954 accounts and Karajan's 1953 Philharmonia tapes. Ravel's 'La Valse' is similarly grandiloquent and is another fine interpretation from the great conductor.

The concert for Italy is a curious item but is nonetheless interesting as a historical souvenir of a particular moment. The First Movement from Beethoven's Fifth is a veritable tour de force whilst the excitement generated by the William Tell Overture has to be heard to be believed. The other items are mere bombastic trifles and not worthy of much mention.

We have come to expect detailed and impeccable documentation in this inestimable series and it is duly provided in the form of Robert Matthew Walker's excellent notes. Richard Caniell provides his usual analysis of the actual recordings and their historic value. The radio transmissions have come up pretty well but all sonic considerations pale into insignificance against music-making of such quality.

Copyright © 2004, Gerald Fenech