Toscanini was a champion of Beethoven's Ninth. His studio recording has become the standard. You can listen to Toscanini performances from 1936 (an air check with the New York Philharmonic) to the 1952 studio one. All are great and are at the highest level of performance. The 1948 televised performance is not only wonderful to hear, but to see Toscanini conduct is to get a glimpse as to why he was considered the best. An interesting note is that the 1937 BBC is in English and the 1946 La Scala is in Italian. That one conductor could do Ninths in three different languages is, to me, simply amazing. Then we have this performance. Maybe because of the was, maybe because Toscanini enjoyed conducting in Buenos Aires (where he had his debut in 1886), maybe because of a lot of things, this recording is unbelievable. To me it is the most powerful, titanic, explosive and volcanic performance you will ever hear. First, the sound, although scratchy, is really good. When I say scratchy, for those of you familiar with old 78's, there was always that basic "hiss" (for want of a better word)you heard when playing those records at home. It is there, but you can put it out of your mind. The instrumentation if full bodied, and (for its time) quite wide ranging. In certain respects it is better than many studio recordings. A lot of imagination is NOT needed. From first note to last, you are carried away by a propulsion that sweeps everything away. Yet, it is not hard driven or tense. It just MOVES. The soloists are great, and there is nary a slip. It has a first movement that emanates from a hush to a full bl;own explosion. A friend of mine felt the sound was tipped to the tympani. I disagree. The tympani is just brought out like I have not heard in any other recording. That first full blown forte say it all. The force continues in the second movement, and the third movement is beautiful and flowing. In no way is it hard driven, but just flows like a powerful stream. The fourth movement is a culmination of the other three. It sings from the first note. No, I don't get into minute details, but (for better or worse) give overall reviews. In this case, words can't really convey this performance. You have to hear it. When it's over, you will feel like the audience you hear at the end, and just go "Whew!"
This CD (unlike the Music and Arts) contains a New York Philharmonic live performance of Beethoven's Leonore No. 3. Again, GREAT. If I prefer the 1939 NBC (that is really overwhelming), it is primarily because of sound. But, make no mistake about it: you will not hear a better one from any other conductor. The sound is OK, and does not take that much away from your enjoyment.