Toscanini: Brahms - The Four Symphonies (3 CD, APE)
Toscanini: Brahms - The Four Symphonies (3 CD, APE)

Orchestra: Philharmonia Orchestra of London
Conductor: Arturo Toscanini
Composer: Johannes Brahms
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 3
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Testament
Size: 497 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: yes

Disc: 1
01. Applause
02. British National Anthem
03. Tragic Overture, Op.81
04. I. Un Poco Sustenuto – Allegro
05. II. Andante Sostenuto
06. III. Un Poco Allegretto E Grazioso
07. IV. Adagio-Piu Andante-Allegro Non Troppo, Ma Con Brio

Disc: 2
01. I. Allegro Non Troppo
02. II. Adagio Non Troppo
03. III. Allegretto Grazioso (Quasi Andantino-Presto, Ma Non Assai)
04. IV. Allegro Con Spirito
05. British National Anthem
06. Chorale (St. Antoni)
07. I. Poco Piu Animato
08. II. Piu Vivace
09. III. Con Moto
10. IV. Andante Con Moto
11. V. Vivace
12. VI. Vivace
13. VII. Grazioso
14. VIII. Presto Non Troppo
15. Finale

Disc: 3
01. I. Allegro Con Brio-Un Poco Sostenuto-Tempo I
02. II. Andante
03. III. Poco Allegretto
04. IV. Allegro-Un Poco Sostenuto
05. I. Allegro Non Troppo
06. II. Andante Moderato
07. III. Allegro Giocoso-Poco Meno Presto
08. IV. Allegro Energico E Passionato-Piu Allegro

It can’t be better than this… truly amazing performances!

OK – just to make everything clear about the drawbacks from the start – there are the firecrackers in the finale of the fourth symphony (audible, yes – they are not exploding “on the roof”, as amazon’s editor says, but in the hall itself due to “mischievous elements” in the audience, as the booklet author puts it), and the stand-in trombone player from LSO is too nervous (fluffs and missed notes) in the finale of the first.

But who cares? These are glorious performances and a legendary moment in recording history. Walter Legge – EMI’s famous producer and the founder of the Philharmonia Orchestra (and E. Schwartzkopf’s husband as well) – finally managed to convince Toscanini coming to England for a few concerts in Royal Festival Hall, London, in September and October, 1952. The Philharmonia Orchestra was apparently both inspired and nervous by the mere presence of the maestro, because the playing is just magical – with its mistakes and all. It is an hair-raising experience to hear Brahms played like this. First-rate, exciting interpretations and magical playing: I’m spellbound.

The orchestra, by the way, included such outstanding artists as Dennis Brain (horn) and Sidney Sutcliffe (oboe). For example, Brain’s horn solo in the finale of the first symphony is exceptional.

All the performances in this box (the four symphonies; the Haydn variations, and the Tragic Overture) are equally rewarding. Even if I still would say that Klemperer’s Brahms stereo recordings on EMI is the first “natural” choice (EMI Great Recordings of Century – Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 1-4/Klemperer), closely followed by Walter’s stereo recordings on SONY (Brahms: Symphony No. 1; Haydn Variations; Academic Festival Overture,Brahms: Symphonies Nos. 2 & 3,Brahms: Symphony No. 4; Tragic Overture; Schicksalslied), I think that these “live” mono performances would be my desert island choice (not forgetting Furtwängler’s unforgettable interpretations: Furtwangler Conducts Brahms – Complete Symphonies, etc / North German RSO, Berlin PO). The question is just how much Brahms you can afford… but don’t die before you hear these outstanding records.

So, to sum up: this box collects truly wonderful performances – it can’t be better than this “live” – in darn good Legge mono sound, so good that you’ll soon forget that it’s a mono. Exceptional, inspired playing from Philharmonia at its peak.

Highly recommended!

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