French Orchestral Music Import
This set really is an album of two halves, the first offering an extensive Debussy programme, with a Ravel encore, the second, a wide-ranging concert with music from a further seven French composers. Historic mono recordings dating from 1949-53, the sound has been restored using 20-bit technology and the latest encoding techniques, such that the only time these tracks ever sounded better was at the moment of performance. Toscanini gave the Italian premiere of Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande, and afterwards corresponded with the composer, gaining permission to augment the orchestration of La Mer, a piece which he conducted many times. The reading here benefits from 40 years of performance experience, and has a timeless atmospheric beauty. Iberia restores the full, master recording as approved by Toscanini (previous releases have had an unauthorised insert), while his instructions to the NBC Symphony make it quite clear what the hero of Prélude à l'apres-midi d'un faune is dreaming about. Ravel called Toscanini "a marvellous virtuoso", and here the conductor returns the compliment with a rich interpretation of Daphnis et Chloé, Suite No. 2. The second disc features such favourites as Saint-Sa�ns' Danse Macabre and Dukas' Sorcerer's Apprentice, as well as some lesser known pieces including Ambroise Thomas' Mignon Overture and Louis Hérold's Zampa Overture. A thoroughly enjoyable collection, this release presents a further side to the enormous musical achievements of "Il Maestro". --Gary S. Dalkin
I don't have the score in front of me, so I can't give the exact measure numbers where this occurs. If anyone is more than familiar with Debussy's score, however, AT's re-touchings can immediately be heard. It was also AT who reportedly made recommendations to Debussy about making some of these changes. Most notably at the end of the work in the episode, "Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea". In Debussy's original edition of the work, he introduces a trumpet fanfare over the tremolo strings near the end. The Durand edition of the score, I believe, still retains this. Interestingly, Haitink in his own recording opts to have the passage played by a trombone, lending it a darker color. Haitink, Karajan, Reiner, and Munch all observe the solo brass flourish in their respective recordings. Toscanini, Cantelli, Baribolli, Giulini, Bernstein, and Ormandy all use Debussy's revised score.
I have to say that madamemusico is mistaken about Stokowski never having conducted La mer; when in fact he did make at least one stereo recording of it for Decca. I don't doubt that he conducted the work with the Philadelphia Orchestra during his tenure there. He conducted Debussy's "Nocturnes", "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun", and at least the "Iberia" section of "Images". Why, then, would he have shied away from Debussy's most celebrated work, when it's clear that he had an affinity for the composer? He even wrote orchestral transcriptions of the composer's Clair de Lune and The Engulfed Cathedral. Here is a link to the CD collection on Decca that includes Stokowski's recording of La mer:
I also take exception to madamemusico's description of the NBC Symphony Orchestra as a "pick-up ensemble". It is true that the symphony orchestra consisted of a few players who also worked in other ensembles at NBC and played in many of the network's other commercial programs. The majority of the NBCSO players, as I understand it, were hand-selected from some of the world's finest orchestras. It was the string section that really made the NBC Symphony Orchestra. The principal winds, to be sure, were not of the same caliber. In its early years, however, some of the solo wind players included flautist John Wummer (who later played in the NYP under Bernstein)and oboist Robert Bloom.
Getting back to the CD compilation reviewed here; this is a great collection of AT's recordings of French works. I've always admired his recording of the Daphnis and Chloe Suite No. 2; but I could never understand why he allowed the solo flute to pause at one point in the central movement. Years later I realized that this was because RCA had continued to record AT, even during the era of LP's when the master recordings were taped, in short increments of 4-5 minutes each. That pause in the flute solo simply represents a side break in the recording; which was first issued on 78 RPM records (despite the master having been recorded on reel-to-reel tape) and later on a 2-disc set of 7-inch 45 RPM records.
The digital remastering for the present CD set improves somewhat over the sound of the earlier "Toscanini Edition" CD's that came out in the early 90's. In the case of Dukas's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"; as presented here, there is an unfortunate break between tape reels that was not seamlessly joined as it had been in the original LP's and on the previous CD.
The performance that stands out for me, though, is AT's recording of the Overture to Thomas's "Mignon". This was AT's second commercial recording of the work and the newer remastering reveals just what a great orchestra the NBCSO really was. Again, they may not have been of the same caliber of the Philadelphia Orchestra or Berlin Philharmonic; but they were more than just a pick-up ensemble... and they were marginally better that Ernst Ansermet's Swiss orchestra with whom he recorded chiefly for Decca.