There's no question that the bulk of Arturo Toscanini's repertoire came from the Classical and Romantic eras. Here is a compilation of several outstanding symphonies that Toscanini conducted during his long career, taken from remarkable RCA Victor recordings of the NBC Symphony Orchestra.
The haunting, sometimes tragic side of Mozart's elusive 40th symphony did not escape Toscanini. It was easy to dismiss much of Mozart's work as "lightweight" or even frivolous, in the light of the major steps taken by composers in the nineteenth century. Perhaps music-lovers were spoiled by the greater drama, power, and innovation of Beethoven. Yet Toscanini recognized that there ARE numerous times in Mozart's music where this brilliant genius wrote profoundly dramatic and serious tunes. The 40th symphony, in particular, is filled with hints that the composer recognized that not everything was wonderful; anyone who has seen the movie "Amadeus" or read the true accounts of the composer's life will recognize that life was a great struggle for Mozart, despite his fame and successes and it wasn't just because Mozart couldn't manage his money. Nevertheless, this performance of the familiar Mozart symphony, one of the last three he composed (during the summer of 1788), is absolutely inspired and exciting.
Toscanini recognized the true genius in Mozart and saw that Haydn was more human and possibly more approachable. Haydn was also closer to Beethoven, certainly through their teacher-student relationship and Beethoven's own continued devotion to Haydn, as demonstrated at the performance of the oratorio "The Creation," near the end of Haydn's life, when Beethoven bowed and kissed Haydn's hand! The so-called "surprise" symphony, one of 12 written for performances in London in the 1790's, is given its full due in this performance. This is Haydn at his best and Toscanini's interpretation is among the best, even if some may complain it is not up to the standards of today's "original instruments" performances.
Luigi Cherubini's "Symphony in D" is rarely performed or recorded anymore. It's really unfortunate that such an enjoyable work is neglected. Certainly Toscanini's recording brings out the best in this dramatic work that so points toward the development of Romanticism. It is much in the spirit of Schubert and Beethoven, one of the rare Italian symphonies that really makes one wish Cherubini or one of the other Italian composers better known for operas had written more purely orchestral works. One can also enjoy Toscanini's performances of the overtures to some of the Cherubini operas, particularly "Medea"; these are also quite good and available elsewhere.
Robert Schumann's third symphony, called "The Rhenish," is a curious five-movement work that is given a thoroughly enjoyable performance by the NBC Symphony in this recording, taken from a 1949 broadcast concert in Studio 8-H. This writer first heard the recording in one of the imported European pressings on vinyl and was amazed at the powerful playing, beginning with the first movement with its remarkably precise and exciting playing. There's even Toscanini's familiar humming as he became so involved in performance! The deeply moving section depicting the cathedral in Cologne is filled with awe and deep feeling. This sets the stage for the triumphant finale. Once again, the overall performance sets the standard for performances of this symphony.
Finally, there is the amazing 1953 recording of Dvorak's ninth symphony, which was, of course, considered his fifth for many years, until his earlier, first four symphonies were finally published, performed, and recorded. This Carnegie Hall performance is about as powerful as any recorded. One marvels at the fact that Toscanini turned 86 years old the year this recording was made. All of the beloved melodies, wholly original (Dvorak insisted) but inspired by Negro spirituals and Indian chants, are played with great feeling. This is clearly a performance to treasure.
The overall collection is a good representation of the variety of symphonies, other than the Beethvoen and Brahms, that were part of Toscanini's standard repertoire.