At last, an even finer musical experience than can be obtained by auditioning a mint copy of the 78s, which I once owned.
This incandescent 1936 reading comes from a recording session at Carnegie Hall during the Maestro's last season with the Philharmonic- Symphony Orchestra of New York. Robert C. Marsh, in his admirable book of reviews of the Toscanini repertoire, remarked that this may have been the greatest classical music recording event of all time! Such hyperbole aside, the performance preserved here is of such unassailable classical honesty, and has such incomparable polish and sense of musical truth, that -- as one might assume -- all further attempts by the Maestro would never measure up (he did the work nearly a dozen times after this waxing, and recorded it again onto magnetic tape in a poor, overdriven 1951 account.)
Only the Franklin Mint LP transfer had the body and clarity of this present CD release, rivalling the original 78s. Made with a special technique using two cutting machines in long, extended takes, the shellac disks featured many seconds of silent grooves while the engineer synchronized his "switch over" to preserve a complete performance (of course, these disk pauses are edited out.) Thus, there is no hint of the "start and stop" effect present on many old 78 rpm recordings, where certain conductors endulged in ritards at the ends of sides, or had difficulty in resuming a movement at a disk break. One simply experiences here a continuous performance with Toscanini's incomparable sense of musical line and architecture.
During the conductor's lifetime, his tempo for the second movement was controversial, as many of his predecessors had adopted an almost funereal pace. The "walking tempo" chosen by Toscanini is now considered entirely appropriate, and has influenced most interpreters to this present day. The pacing for the remaining movements blends energy with a sense of natural flow, so that one never experiences any feelings of strain or contrivance (it might be noted that Leopold Stokowski directing an almost equally- convincing account of the Seventh with his Philadelphia Orchestra in 1927, now available in an excellent transfer on Biddulph. Not until the appearance of the superb 1950 performance by Furtwaengler and the VPO was there a Beethoven A-Major symphony reading to rival these two Victor phonographic classics.)
No attempts at fancy noise reduction have been made by the wise engineers who produced this superb issue. The equalization is correct, and there is full body and sheen to the sound of the orchestra, though highs above about 5 to 6 kHz were not engraved. The low frequency response is rich and deep, so that the growl of the double basses in the finale is dramatic and impressive. I measured a true electrical dynamic range (using a special metering system) at nearly 40 dB: this is about the absolute limit of a good 78 mastering. If any "monitoring" of audio peak levels was done during the recording session, it was accomplished by careful manual adjustments: there is no "squashing" sound of electronic limiters, and the sforzandi and climaxes are aggressive and powerful.
RCA now redresses past sins: the old Camden LP issue of the late fifties was nasty and thin, with a filtered lack of realism. I am delighted to report that here on this new CD transfer the producers eschewed fake stereo, added ambience, or rechannelling.
The companion works are not nearly as well recorded: the 1929 Haydn and Mendelssohn are very dim in comparison, but have a natural acoustical balance from the Carnegie Hall mike pickup that is better than the typical Studio 8-H claustrophobia of the later Toscanini broadcasts. The Haydn "Clock" symphony is more relaxed and sunny than the 1946 revisitation by the Maestro (though the constant shellac hiss is a bit fatiguing); the Mendelssohn Scherzo is a tour de force of virtuosity at an ideal tempo, compared to the slower 1926 PSNY recording, or the slightly faster 1947 NBC version.
Truly a Great Recording of All Time, worthy of the finest rating. BE CERTAIN you purchase this and NOT any of the "rip off" unauthorized dubbings, which cannot possibly equal this honest transfer of recordings that were arguably the finest versions up to the microgroove era.