Toscanini: Beethoven - The 9 Symphonies (5 CD box set, WV)
Toscanini: Beethoven - The 9 Symphonies (5 CD box set, WV)

Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Performer: Norman Scott, Jan Peerce, Nan Merriman, Eileen Farrell, Robert Show Chorale
Orchestra: NBC Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Arturo Toscanini
Audio CD
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 5 CD box set
Format: WavPack (image+cue)
Label: RCA
Size: 1.53 GB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

# Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by NBC Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Arturo Toscanini

# Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by NBC Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Arturo Toscanini

# Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (“Eroica”), Op. 55
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by NBC Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Arturo Toscanini

# Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by NBC Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Arturo Toscanini

# Symphony No. 5 in C minor (“Fate”), Op. 67
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by NBC Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Arturo Toscanini

# Symphony No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”), Op. 68
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by NBC Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Arturo Toscanini

# Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by NBC Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Arturo Toscanini

# Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by NBC Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Arturo Toscanini

# Symphony No. 9 in D minor (“Choral”), Op. 125
Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven
Performed by NBC Symphony Orchestra
with Norman Scott, Jan Peerce, Eileen Farrell, Nan Merriman
Conducted by Arturo Toscanini

Also available:  Great Conductors of the 20th Century Series vol.01-40 (80 CD series)

CD01 Symphony 1 & 2
CD02 Symphony 3 & 4
CD03 Symphony 5 & 6
CD04 Symphony 7 & 8
CD05 Symphony 9

Important and fine historical performances

Let’s first get the quality of the audio out of the way. These recordings were made around 1950, and even after improved mastering, the monaural sound is below that of a contemporary digital recording or for that matter the Living Stereo analog recordings that RCA was making just 10 years later. Anyone who wants sonically brilliant recordings of the Beethoven symphonies should try a different set. There are many other quite good sets available, on both digital and analog recordings and in different performing styles.

The reason to get this set is to hear Toscanini conduct and, specifically, to hear how he approached these foundational works late in his career. To my own non-expert ears, Toscanini fully earned his reputation as perhaps the greatest conductor of his time. He had precise control of his musicians’ playing. He communicated a real feel for the nuances of the music. Yes, his tempos were much faster than was common at the time or that was fashionable for Beethoven performances for two decades or so after his death. Toscanini took what he called an “objective” approach to the music, which seems to have meant among other things observing Beethoven’s own tempo markings. Toscanini’s reputation seems to have fallen after his death for such reasons.

But fashions change. The period instrument and “historically informed performance” movement that took off in the late 1970s or so eventually led to conductors again taking Beethoven’s own tempo markings seriously and observing them in performance. New and influential recordings of the Beethoven symphony cycle were released including those of the British conductors John Eliot Gardiner and Roger Norrington. They proved that faster tempos restored a drive and thrill to the music that could get lost in more stately performances, some of which, in comparison, began sounding ponderous and dull.

As this Toscanini Beethoven cycle shows, Toscanini understood that decades earlier. And these performances are thrilling, as well as intelligent and insightful. If you can get over the quality of the sound (which, really, isn’t that bad), these recordings are fine simply to enjoy Beethoven’s music, and they also are helpful in understanding why Toscanini was the important conductor that he was, through much of the twentieth century.

8 Comments

  1. Old Trustworthy Whatever:
    I had these 9 on RCA Vinyl in one box back in the 1950’s;
    And though they are long gone, I can still hear Toscanini and the NBC Sym!
    Thank you, sir. I’m so grateful!
    Bob

    1. And, yes, Whatever:
      The new Boxset.ru format is n-e-a-t! It takes a moment to get used to it;m but it works well, and I like it!
      So, another thanks is in order!
      Bob

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