Nothing anyone else said about the veils of poor sound that have been lifted from these performances prepared me for the actual listening experience. There is a jaw-dropping immediacy to the music and inner music that betrays both the age of these selections and the naughty gnomes who kept these jewels from gleaming bright and clear as here for sixty plus years. For those of us not lucky enough to have heard Toscanini live--and have had just the previous incarnations of his recordings to mis-judge him by--I say try again. Garlands should be strewn in the path of these producers who have finally revealed the master behind the masters of these musical gems.
Respighi owes almost his entire reputation to Toscanini, and after a long period of banishment, I notice that the rest of the Roman Triloogy and not just The Pines of Rome, is beginning to creep back on to concert programs. All three installments are brilliantly orchestrated, and even if auto horns and nightingale recordings smack of pops music, at least there's historic value here. For decades Toscanini's readings have set the standard, despite the sonic defects of RCA's old mono recordings. It sued to be said that the ones done in Carnegie Hall had more air and spaciousness than the suffocating, dry acoustics of Studio 8-H, the venue for NBC Sym. radio broadcasts. Neither comes close to the best from that era right after the war. Happily, this line of RCA reissues, unlike any previous incarnation, put a musician in charge of the remastering and gave him carte blanche to massage the sound any way he wanted to get a fuller, more musical result.
By and large, the music on this newly-remastered set is "trivial," Verdi's "Forza" overture and the "Dance of the Hours" (in my opinion, the best ballet music ever written by an Italian composer) being the best of a mediocre lot. But that is not the point. The point is that here we have Arturo Toscanini conducting pieces that HE enjoyed, which means that there is a lot of love and feeling that does not always come across in his more "serious" recordings. As for the music: let's face it, Respighi was the Italian Gershwin. His music is splashy light classical mixed with the pop music of his time and place, same as Gershwin, and the result is about as artistic as "American in Paris." I had these "Pines and Fountains of Rome" on the original LP, which came in a deluxe package with huge photographs of the actual places. The Rossini overtures are OK I guess, though "William Tell" seems to me the best...
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