Playing It Like Toscanini

Review by: Victor Carr Jr


Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 8

For Arturo Toscanini’s 150th anniversary, Steven Richman and the Harmonie Ensemble/New York present a collection of orchestral pieces particularly associated with the maestro. In terms of repertoire there’s little here that you probably don’t have duplicated already in your collection, but there is one rarity: the Aida Overture was composed by Verdi to replace the original prelude, but he changed his mind due to its (in Verdi’s words) “pretentious insipidity”. Boy was he right! Instead of the Prelude’s sublime simplicity, we get second-rate circus music. Still, for the curious it’s worth a hearing.

Toscanini’s famous transcription of Waldteufel’s Skater’s Waltz is a delight to hear, while the Carmen Suite differs from Bizet’s own by including the Toréadors’ march as played in Act 4, where it sets the stage for Carmen’s death scene.

Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and Rossini’s William Tell Overture are the standard versions. However, as with the other works in this collection, Richman takes pains to imitate Toscanini’s singular performing style by employing swift tempos, and drawing aggressive playing from the orchestra (especially the brass). It’s no surprise that William Tell comes off best–it’s an exciting performance, even if it doesn’t quite match the ferocity of Toscanini’s own recording. The rest of the program is quite good, too, as the Harmonie Ensemble’s playing features impressive vitality and precision throughout.

The recording replicates the NBC Symphony sound by closely miking the orchestra in a dry acoustic (which results in sonic congestion in the loudest passages). If you’d like to get a sense of the Toscanini experience without having to endure those old harsh, mono RCA recordings, you’ll have fun with this CD.

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Recording Details:

Album Title: Toscanini 150th Anniversary
Reference Recording: Toscanini/RCA (on various CDs)

GIOACHINO ROSSINI: William Tell Overture

    Harmonie Ensemble/New York, Steven Richman

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