The present recording, made during a 1953 concert broadcast, documents the octogenarian conductor’s last performance of Manfred. Despite his astonishingly robust health in extreme old age, Toscanini occasionally had bad days in his last years; letters to friends testify to his acute awareness of this fact. The occasionally sloppy playing and general rigidity in the first and last movements of this recording, especially as compared with the 1949 version, show that he was not entirely at his best during this concert. The inner movements are, on the whole, more successful. The recording has an advantage over its “official” predecessor, however, in its more natural sonority, which can help those who never heard Toscanini in the flesh to achieve a somewhat better notion of the orchestral sound Otto Klemperer described as “a miracle.” The recording of Romeo & Juliet on this disc, likewise from a 1953 performance, was Toscanini’s last encounter with the piece, and the reservations about the Manfred performance of the same year are not applicable here. This version has all the power of the 1946 recording, better wind intonation, greater breadth of phrasing (note, in particular, the woodwind and horn chorale in the coda), and far superior sound. A remarkable achievement-especially for a man about to celebrate his eighty-sixth birthday.
TOSCANINI CONDUCTS TCHAIKOVSKY: MANFRED SYMPHONY in Four Tableaux, after Byron’s Dramatic Poem (from a concert, Carnegie Hall, January 10, 1953) & ROMEO AND JULIET Fantasy Overture, after Shakespeare’s Tragedy (from a concert, Carnegie Hall, March 21, 1953). Arturo Toscanini, The NBC Symphony Orchestra Total Time: 64:09. Originally released by Music & Arts in 1987 as CD-260. Technical reconstruction by Graham Newton; liner notes by Harvey Sachs. UPC # 0-17685-42602-5
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