Toscanini Collection Box set
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Limited 85 disc (84 CDs + DVD) box set. Back by popular demand, The Toscanini Collection is a reissue of RCA's 1992 compendium that encompassed all of the recordings Toscanini made with the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, and NBC Symphony.
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Most of all, however, Toscanini`s greatness, for me, lies in how superbly well he conducted and interpreted the repertory of composers for whom he had the most affinity. First of all, LUIGI CHERUBINI. Toscanini did much to kick-start the revival of interest in Cherubini`s music that, fortunately, has continued. Toscanini`s recordings, however, do suffer from the sound in which they were captured. Cherubini`s music is beautifully orchestrated, so the potential charm of hearing such fine interpretations of Cherubini`s lone symphony and of the overtures to his operas which Toscanini chose to record (and to conduct publicly frequently in his concerts and broadcasts) is limited by the pale sound, which does so much to undermine these recordings. As for the great Requiem in C Minor, the choral-orchestral balances are even more damaging, the cunningly orchestrated accompaniment at times all but inaudible when the chorus is singing (that is, most of the time). Nonethess, Toscanini was a giant in this repertory!Read more ›
This is an excellent value and the sound is generally very good, considering (a) the dates of the recordings; and (b) the not-so-good recording engineering that was used for Toscanini. It is a frugal set, without individual commentaries and without the libretti for the operas.
You will never never never hear an Otello, a Falstaff, a La Boheme, a La Traviata, a Verdi (or Cherubini) Requiem, a Beethoven Eroica (1939 and 1953 -- both different and both great), a Beethoven 7th (1936), a Beethoven 9th, a Schubert 9th (1942 and 1953, both different and both great), a Dvorak New World, a Pictures at an Exhibition, as you will find in this set!
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The record companies are still at it: This time Sony released the Toscanini Collection in the UK in April, but made us Yanks wait until July.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
The first UK pressings had a major screw-up.
In 1992 RCA/BMG released the first 82 CD Toscanini Collection.
That is the template upon which the new Toscanini Collection was assembled.
In 1999 RCA/BMG issued twelve 2 CD sets of Toscanini in new, 20-bit transfers. Most people thought these were an improvement over the 16-bit transfers of 1992. *
In 2006 Toscanini's Philadelphia Orchestra recordings were issued in new transfers.
Finally in 2008 Sony Japan issued 15 CDs worth of transfers on Japanese JVC XRCDs [most of this material overlapped with the 1999 20-bit transfers]. JVC XRCDs are highly valued by collectors - I could never afford them.
If you're adding this up, approximately one third of the 1992 set was re-done in new and improved transfers.
Of course, in an ideal world, someone would have re-mastered the remaining 2/3 using the latest technology, but this is not an ideal world.
GOOD NEWS: Sony took the 1992 Collection as a template, and inserted the new and improved masterings onto the appropriate CDs. Can't complain about that.
GOOD NEWS: The price is unbelievably low.
In 1992, the 82 CD box sold for $1200. Today the 84 CD + 1 DVD box sells for $125. This is simply amazing.
Every civilized person should own this set.
A Monument to Western Civilization.
BAD NEWS: ATTENTION UK READERS. This is the most serious blunder.
In the first batch of pressings released in the UK and Europe, the 1949 studio recording of Beethoven's Symphony 3 "Eroica" was MISSING.
The 1949 Eroica was supposed to be on CD1.
Instead, the 1953 broadcast appeared twice: on CD1 (mislabeled as 1949) and on CD29 (where it belongs).
[For a detailed explanation of how this came to be, see the comments section at the end of this review - comment dated July 10, 2012].
If you need a quick test of whether you have the 1949 or 1953 Eroica, there is a 20 second difference in the timings of the first movement:
1949 = 13:46
1953 = 14:06
Also, the engineer retained audience noise between movements of the 1953 performance.
This is most audible between movements 3 and 4.
The missing 1949 Eroica on CD1 was corrected in later pressings, including the North American release.
If you have the bad CD1, and ordered it from Amazon UK, contact http://amazon.co.uk to see about getting a replacement CD1.
If you ordered from an independent dealer, there is no uniform replacement policy.
Contact your dealer: you may have to return the entire 84 CD box, and get a new 84 CD box. Wasteful stupidity.
To date, Sony has been ignoring customer's inquiries.
[Past experience: My 60 CD Bernstein Symphony Edition came with one missing CD and two duplicate CDs.
I tried to contact Sony to arrange an exchange of CDs, but they would not acknowledge my existence.
Ended up returning the whole 60 CD box in exchange for a new 60 CD box. Stupid.]
GOOD NEWS: It comes with a nice book of essays about Toscanini and lots of nice photographs.
In 1992, RCA published a booklet with discographical index to the contents of all 82 CDs, but it was a limited edition.
Today the discographical index is included in the book.
This is important, as the published order of recordings was not and is not alphabetical or chronological.
BAD NEWS: The 1992 program notes are no longer included. They were a model of their kind.
GOOD NEWS: You can get them in book form: "Arturo Toscanini: The NBC Years" by Mortimer H. Frank (Amadeus Press, 2002).
It even includes a critical discography cued to the volumes in the old Collection, which are the same volumes as the new Collection.
BAD NEWS: No librettos for the operas and vocal works. This was predictable. Still sad.
BADDISH NEWS: Sony decided to slavishly copy the published sequence of the 1992 edition.
This is taking "original jacket" mania to a ridiculous extreme.
They are not even "original jackets".
Toscanini died in 1957, but the totally arbitrary published order of the 1992 Complete Edition must be respected. Why?
Why not issue the CDs in alphabetical order by composer?
Or chronologically by date of composition (Bach through Shostakovich)?
Or by date of recording (1920 to 1954)?
BAD NEWS: The DVD "Toscanini: The Maestro" features a censored version of Toscanini's wartime film of Verdi's "Hymn of the Nations."
Toscanini's wartime film of Verdi's composition expanded Verdi's original, which combined the national anthems of France, Great Britain and Italy, to include the anthems of the Soviet Union (the Internationale) and the United States (the Star-Spangled Banner).
The unabridged audio of the performance is on CD 63, but the DVD of the film eliminates the Soviet anthem entirely.
Actually, this is not Sony's fault - RCA did the censoring back in the 80's when the work was prepared for VHS release.
GOOD NEWS: The complete, uncensored "Hymn of the Nations" is available on DVD.
It was a production of the U.S. Government Department of War Information, so its in the public domain.
If you want to see as well as hear Toscanini conducting the Soviet National Anthem, do a google search for "Berkshire Record Outlet".
Click on "Search Catalog". Under "Keywords" enter "Toscanini", then check the box next to "DVD", then click "Search".
If you're lucky, you will find a 2 DVD-R set on the PDVD label (#PDVD2) titled "Great Conductors" selling for $14.95.
On DVD2, at 13:26 of track 8, you will both see and hear Arturo Toscanini conducting the Soviet National Anthem (Internationale).
I was never a fan of the Soviet Union, but they had a nice anthem. **
BAD NEWS: I completely missed this the first time. The Overture to L'Italiana in Algeri on CD 47 has a truncated openning.
Rossini wrote 21 soft pizzicatti in three groups of six and one group of three: 1-2-3..4-5-6.....1-2-3..4-5-6.....1-2-3..4-5-6.....1-2-3...Orchestra tutti!
CD 47 omitts the first 6 pizzicatti: 1-2-3..4-5-6.....1-2-3..4-5-6.....1-2-3...Orchestra tutti!
The old CD from 1992 is OK; the problem came with the 1999 remastering. I'm surprised no one noticed it until now.
Actually, the abbreviated opening doesn't sound as "wrong" as one might think.
I doubt if Sony will remaster CD 47, but if they do, I'd appreciate it if someone would post a notice in the comments at the end of this review.
DISAPPOINTING NEWS: In their original press release, Sony promised that they would include 2 CDs of previously unreleased Toscanini performances with the BBC Symphony.
That is not the case: These are the same BBC recordings that Biddulph and Naxos have already issued (still nice to have).
ANNOYING NEWS: The 2CD and 3 CD sets are hard to open. Hard to describe the problem, but you'll know what I mean when you handle one.
I have found a drastic solution which works quite well: I used a paper cutter to trim 1/16 of an inch off the two sealed ends.
So long as you have a nice straight cut, it looks totally professional (don't use scissors).
IN SUMMATION: Despite some real problems (especially in the UK), you really should get this set. Especially at the insanely low price.
* It is the majority critical opinion that the new transfers are an improvement over 1992.
I am not going to express an opinion.
I just remembered that I am 63 years old (I try to forget).
I think my hearing is just fine, but that is probably not the case.
After age 50, people gradually loose their ability to hear high frequencies.
Even so, it sounds good to me - always remembering that the originals are 58-92 years old.
** The 2 DVD set also contains videos of other famous conductors. Including the only known existing footage of Leo Borchard.
If you don't know the name, he was Music Director of the Berlin Philharmonic for six weeks in 1945 (until he was accidently shot by an American soldier). He succeeded Furtwangler and was succeeded by Celibidache, who was succeeded by Furtwangler (again).
OK, the American soldier didn't "accidently" shoot Leo Borchard.
Borchard was a passenger in a car that ran a roadblock in occupied Berlin.
Moral: Always stop for roadblocks.
In terms of packaging I am quite satisfied with the sturdy rectangular box with each cd in a cardboard sleeve that details the contents on its back-cover. The front covers of the cds contain an endless variation of the maestro himself in black and white photos. The lid of the box lifts straight up, which allows one to scan the content quickly as the content is printed on the edge of each cd sleeve. They stack nicely and sturdily next to each other. No complaints as long as one removes and inserts the cds carefully.
Brief outline of content [from JPC]:
Beethoven: Symphonien Nr. 1-9; Leonore-Ouvertüren Nr. 2 & 3;
Septett op. 20; Egmont-Ouvertüre op. 84; Violinkonzert op. 61;
Klavierkonzerte Nr. 1, 3, 4; Weihe des Hauses-Ouvertüre;
Coriolan-Ouvertüre; Geschöpfe des Prometheus-Ouvertüre;
Fidelio; Missa solemnis op. 123
+Brahms: Symphonien Nr. 1-4; Akademische Festouvertüre
op. 80; Tragische Ouvertüre op. 81; Haydn-Variationen op. 56a;
Konzert für Violine, Cello, Orchester op. 120; Serenade
Nr. 2; Klavierkonzert Nr. 2; Liebeslieder-Walzer op. 52;
Schicksalslied op. 89
+Mozart: Symphonien Nr. 35, 39-41; Ouvertüren zu Figaro & Don Giovanni; Fagottkonzert KV 191; Divertimento Nr. 15
+Haydn: Symphonien Nr. 88, 94, 98, 99, 101; Sinfonia
concertante H1: 105
+Schubert: Symphonien Nr. 5, 8, 9
+Schumann: Symphonie Nr. 4; Manfred-Ouvertüre
+Weber: Freischütz-Ouvertüre; Oberon-Ouvertüre;
Aufforderung zum Tanz
+Mendelssohn: Symphonien Nr. 4 & 5; Sommernachtstraum op. 21
& 61; Oktett op. 20
+Tschaikowsky: Symphonie Nr. 6; Nussknacker-Suite;
Manfred-Symphonie op. 58; Romeo & Julia; Klavierkonzert Nr. 1
+Franck: Symphonie d-moll; Psyche Nr. 4
+Saint-Saens: Symphonie Nr. 3 "Orgelsymphonie"; Danse
+Dvorak: Symphonie Nr. 9
+Sibelius: Symphonie Nr. 2; Pojolas Tochter; Der Schwan von
+Schostakowitsch: Symphonien Nr. 1 & 7
+Kodaly: Hary Janos-Suite
+Smetana: Die Moldau
+Cherubini: Symphonie D-Dur; Ali Baba-Ouvertüre
+Cimarosa: Matrimonio segreto-Ouvertüre; Matrimonio per
+Prokofieff: Symphonie Nr. 1
+Strawinsky: Petruschka (Ausz.)
+Strauss: Don Quixote; Tod & Verklärung; Don Juan; Till
Eulenspiegel; Schleiertanz aus Salome
+Wagner: Siegfried-Idyll; Orchesterstücke, Arien & Szenen
+Berlioz: Harold en Italie; Romeo & Juliette; Römischer
Karneval; Rakoczy Marsch
+Bizet: L'Arlesienne-Suite; Carmen-Suite
+Mussorgsky: Bilder einer Ausstellung
+Debussy: La mer; Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune;
Iberia; Nuages; Fetes
+Gershwin: An American in Paris
+Sousa: El Capitan; Stars and Stripes forever
+Grofe: Grand Canyon Suite
+Barber: Adagio for Strings
+Ravel: Daphnis & Chloe-Suite Nr. 2
+Dukas: Der Zauberlehrling
+Gluck: Iphigenie-Ouvertüre;: Reigen seliger Geister
+Rossini: Ouvertüren zu L'Italiana, Signor Bruschino,
Barbier, Cenerentola, Gazza ladra, Siege de Corinthe,
Semiramide, W. Tell
+Puccini: La Boheme
+Verdi: Aida; Falstaff; Otello; Un Ballo in Maschera; La
Traviata; Requiem; Te Deum
As to the overall virtues of the set, for anyone who needs convincing -- and this comes from someone who grew up highly doubtful about the worth of Toscanini's recordings -- some of those performances, such as his 1936 Beethoven Seventh with the Philharmonic, the 1949 Eroica, the Grofe Grand Canyon Suite (no, I'm not joking -- he gets the NBC Symphony to play it like real music, and lo, and behold, IT IS!!!), the Rossini overtures, the Boheme, and all of the Verdi, plus a lot of the Beethoven -- have seldom been equaled. And it's ALL worth owning. The producers, beyond the structural flaws delineated by other reviewers, seem to have gotten this one right -- maybe the 1992 CD art hardly constitutes "original jackets," but they had to use something, and if it helped make this project more viable in some way, bravo! And it is a bargain, at anything less than $200 (for those with short memories, back in 1992, the original collection -- which had a lot of sonic deficiencies that have been fixed here -- went for over $1000, and took up a lot more space, although the earlier editions, from 1992 and 1999, also contained extensive essays in each individual volume authored by classical music critic/scholars Harris Goldsmith and Mortimer H. Frank, which are not present in this collection).
One should also point out that, despite the thorough nature of this collection, it will still be necessary even for the non-completist to move beyond this box. There were any number of broadcast performances that, for whatever reason, Toscanini never authorized for commercial release in his lifetime. His estate has granted Testament Records access to several volumes of these, and beyond the legitimate, licensed material, there are some issues by Guild, Music & Art, and other labels that fill out a few major gaps in Toscanini's library (perhaps most notably the Brahms Requiem).
Be that as it may, the 2012 version of Pines of Rome is outstanding in sonic quality. Not only are the woodwinds, flutes and brass beautifully clear, the bass is full and resonant .....a true pleasure to listen to. I also sampled the 1949 Eroica and it, too, is greatly improved. I haven't gone too far in this set yet but it promises to be a real joy to listen to.
There are 3 other sets (all available from Amazon) that, in my opinion, complement this RCA edition. Remember the RCA releases were the Toscanini approved releases. The first set listeners will want to pick up to supplement the RCA edition is the Music and Arts Beethoven Cycle from 1939. Toscanini Conducts Beethoven: Complete Symphonies & Selected Overtures (From the Legendary October-December 1939 Cycle) Voted about 10 years ago by Gramophone Magazine as the best Beethoven cycle on disc, this series of 5 concerts came into being after Toscanini, a virulent anti-fascist and in exile from Italy, was heart broken to hear of the invasion of Poland. He immediately programmed all the Beethoven symphonies to be played between October and December, 1939 as a protest to Hitler and Mussolini's tyranny and an affirmation in the civilized German people. Powerfully played and conducted with obvious emotional purpose and beautifully restored by Music and Arts, they are landmark performances. They were also re-issued from a different set of masters by NAXOS a few years ago as 5 separate concerts complete with introductions and commentary, however, they are not available in the US because of copyright restrictions.
The other 2 sets are of Brahms symphonies. Music and Arts released the Brahms cycle performed by the NBC Symphony and broadcast from 1942-43, considered Toscanini's best performances, but never approved by him for commercial release. This set may be hard to find Arturo Toscanini Conducts Brahms - The Four Symphonies (1942/43). And the legendary 1952 cycle with the Philharmonia Orchestra from the Royal Festival HallBrahms: The Four Symphonies / Toscanini, Philharmonia Orchestra The 1952 cycle was not an RCA venture and therefore not included. Both of these sets, for different reasons, show Toscanini's mastery of Brahms 4 symphonies in a different light than the RCA versions included in the 2012 Edition.
In the 2012 Edition, there are some phenomonal performances that have never been equalled, never mind surpassed ....by any conductor or orchestra. The NBC Symphony was the greatest orchestra in the world during its 17 year lifespan...from 1937-1954. European orchestras were devasted firstly by Hitler's fanatical removal of Jewish musicians and then by the war itself and the painful rebuilding afterward. Many of these musicians wound up in America and played in the NBC Symphony. Created by David Sarnoff specifically for Toscanini, worked and built up by Artur Rodzinski, no other orchestra on either side of the Atlantic, except perhaps Stokowski's Philadelphia Orchestra could match the NBC for verve, clarity, attack, and sheer excitement and polish of sound. One NY critic called it "a sonic thoroughbred" and that it was.
At the top of the list of desert island performances in this set are:
1936 Beethoven Seventh - with the NY Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra.....universally acclaimed as the best recording of the 7th ever!
1949 Beethoven Eroica Symphony
Verdi's Otello with Ramon Vinay....only equalled by the great Mario del Monaco and the Vienna Philharmonic cond. by Karajan in 1959.
Verdi's Falstaff - called by James Levine "the greatest Verdi recording every made"
Verdi's La Traviata - not the strongest of casts, but stellar performance
Puccini's La Boheme - he conducted the premiere in 1896 and this is a 50th anniversary concert perfomance. Again, some cast weaknesses, but a consumnate performance by Toscanini and the NBC.
Respighi - The Pines of Rome & others
Debussy - La Mer
1949-1952 Beethoven Symphony cycle - esp. the Fifth and the Ninth
Wagner's Ring cycle music.....esp. Siegfried's Funeral March
Mendelssohn's 4th Symphony - "the Italian" and the incidental music to a Midsummer's Night Dream
Berlioz - Queen Mab Scherzo from Romeo and Juliet
Beethoven's Missa Solemnis with Canadian soprano Lois Marshall
The Philadelphia Recordings 1941-42 - series of stellar recordings made with the Philadelphia Orchestra over a few weeks right after Pearl Harbor. Quite the story behind these superb recordings ( see B.H. Haggin and Mortimer Frank's books below)
Just listen to these above when you open the set.....it just doesn't get any better. May I also recommend, as other reviewers have, a few excellent books to fill out Toscanini, his times and his performances:
Toscanini - the NBC Years by Mortimer FrankArturo Toscanini: The NBC Years (Amadeus)
Arturo Toscanini - Contemporary Reflections of the Maestro by B.H. Haggin.....This is actually 2 books "Conversations with Toscanini" and "Toscanini the Musicians Knew" by the great music critic of New York who attended many Toscanini performances and interviewed many musicians from the NBC and NY Philharmonic orchestras (may be out of print).....
Toscanini - A Biography by Harvey Sachs. An outstanding biography.Toscanini
For those who are not familiar with Toscanini and want a quick introduction, watch the included DVD "Arturo Toscanini - The Maestro"...
You will be hooked !!