I was skeptical when these new CDs were issued. My thoughts were that the early 1990s Complete Toscanini reissue was probably the best that could be humanly done to restore the very pinched and nasal sounding originals. Since I had already bought half of that set, I wasn't about to spend more of my hard-earned money on a marginally improved RE-reissue.
I was wrong. In 1997, RCA totally reorganized and inventoried its massive vaults, which had been in disarray for decades. As a result, many original sources which had been declared "lost" were now "found." This new remastering is strikingly improved sonically over all earlier issues. Utilizing the best technology now available, RCA has also done the right thing by hiring a musician--conductor Ed Houser--rather than whiz-bang technicians to supervise the remastering. The NBC Symphony Orchestra now sounds better than ever before, with greater clarity, smoother strings, fuller winds, and less blotting out during fortissimos.
Perhaps no conductor of the 20th Century has been as misunderstood as Arturo Toscanini, as evidenced by the critical backlash with which he was assailed in the years after his death. That criticism was partly in reaction to the equally unbalanced adulation heaped upon him during his lifetime. I remember once mentioning to an acquaintance my admiration for Toscanini's Beethoven and Brahms, and he shot back, "He conducts everything too fast!" In fact, in comparison with other recordings and broadcasts of his era, Toscanini's conducting was not generally faster than average. In relation to TODAY'S phlegmatic tempos, however, Toscanini's pacing is definitely brisk. But what most people are hearing as fast is, in fact, Toscanini's characteristic rhythmic vitality and, occasionally, drive, which brings the faster movements to sparkling life. Likewise, the slow movements are never dragged, and glow with Italianate warmth.
It is worth noting that, for this issue, RCA has replaced the 1949 studio recording of the "Eroica" with Toscanini's more dynamic 1953 live performance. RCA does not credit the liner notes, but they are reprints of Mortimer H. Frank's excellent notes originally written for the early 1990s CD release.
RCA has so far only released Toscanini's core repertoire with the NBC Symphony--but they are more than welcome additions to the catalogue. The Maestro's recordings with the New York Philharmonic, and The Philadelphia Orchestra should also be remastered, post-haste. Then, RCA, which has given us magnificent reissues of Kapell and Rubinstein, should get to work and replace their botched Vladimir Horowitz reissue from the 1990s, using this magnificent Toscanini reissue as a template.