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AT Immortal, Vol. X: Italian Orchestral…

AT Immortal, Vol. X: Italian Orchestral Music (Respighi, Rossini, etc.) (1999)

by Arturo Toscanini

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Arturo Toscanini
NBC Symphony Orchestra

Italian Orchestral Music

CD 1:

Ottorino Respighi (1879–1936)

Pini di Roma
[Pines of Rome] (20:47)
[1] I pini di Villa Borghese [The Pines of Villa Borghese]
[2] Pini presso una catacomba [Pines near a Catacomb]
[3] I pini del Gianicolo [The Pines of the Janiculum]
[4] I pini della Via Appia [The Pines of the Appian Way]
(Recorded March 17, 1953, in Carnegie Hall)

Fontane di Roma [Fountains of Rome] (15:07)
[5] La fontana di Valle Giulia all’alba [The Fountain of Valle Giulia at Dawn]
[6] La fontana di Tritone al mattino [The Triton Fountain at Morning]
[7] La fontana di Trevi al meriggio [The Fountain of Trevi at Midday]
[8] La fontana di Villa Medici al tramonto [The Villa Medici Fountain at Sunset]
(Recorded December 17, 1951, in Carnegie Hall)

Feste Romane [Roman Festivals] (23:46)
[9] Circenses [Circuses]
[10] Il giubileo [The Jubilee]
[11] L’Ottobrate [The October Festival]
[12] La Befana [Epiphany]
(Recorded December 12, 1949, in Carnegie Hall)

CD 2:

Gioacchino Rossini (1792–1868)
[1] L’Italiana in Algeri: Overture (7:20)
(Recorded April 14, 1950, in concert at Carnegie Hall)

Alfredo Catalani (1854–1893)
[2] Loreley: Danza delle ondine [Dance of the Water Nymphs] (Act III) (6:25)
[3] La Wally: Prelude (Act IV) (6:35)
(Recorded August 5, 1952, in Carnegie Hall)

Gioacchino Rossini (1792–1868)
[4] Semiramide: Overture (11:46)
(Recorded September 28, 1951, in Carnegie Hall)

Gaetano Donizetti (1797–1848)
[5] Don Pasquale: Overture (6:31)
(Recorded October 5, 1951, in Carnegie Hall)

Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901)
[6] La Forza del Destino: Overture (7:07)
(Recorded November 10, 1952, in Carnegie Hall)

Amilcare Ponchielli (1834–1886)
[7] La Gioconda: Danza delle ore [Dance of the Hours] (9:37)
(Recorded July 29, 1952, in Carnegie Hall)

Gioacchino Rossini (1792–1868)
[8] Guillaume Tell: Overture [William Tell] (11:58)
(Recorded June 19, 1953, in Carnegie Hall)

RCA Red Seal, 2000. 2 CD. TT 59:58+67:47. The Immortal, Vol. X. Digitally remastered. Uncredited liner notes reprinted from the Gold Seal AT Collection.


My one-star deduction has nothing to do with the playing or the sound quality. Both are, in fact, outstanding. It is the selection that downgrades this set.

Respighi is a sort of Italian Rimsky-Korsakov. He is a master of dazzling orchestration. He has his own sound world and a special gift for orchestral effects. Sometimes it almost gets the better of him. Then his orchestration becomes thick and noisy. It takes Toscanini, an unsurpassed master in the unravelling of complex scores, to remedy this. All this skill and effort are largely wasted, though. For Respighi is a shattering mediocrity as a composer. Neither his themes nor their development is in any way extraordinary. Rimsky-Korsakov does have an occasional flash of inspiration: Respighi does not. He is a classic example of style over substance.

In short, one disc full of Respighi is too much. Even though it is not the best filled disc in the world, it does become tedious. Brilliant orchestration goes only so far. Two of his works, Pines and Fountains for instance, would have been more than enough. Festivals, the showiest and the slightest of the three, should have been omitted.

What would I have instead? I can tell you this right away. More Rossini! Somewhat scandalously, none of the five overtures from June 1945 – stupendous performances in terrific for its time sound – is included here. What a shame! All eight overtures should have been released as they were back in 1992 as Vol. 47 from the Arturo Toscanini Collection (RCA Gold Seal, GD 60289). At 68:36, this would have filled the first disc rather nicely. The rest of the second should have been retained together with the Respighi works. That would have been a five-star selection of Italian Orchestral Music.

(Even better, more Respighi could have been skipped in favour of, say, more Verdi. There is plenty of material. Most of it, however, does not seem to be eligible for The Immortal series. Looking over the nine volumes in my possession, it is notable that whoever made the selection insisted on recordings at least from 1949, possibly fearing that the inferior sound of earlier ones would compromise the commercial power of the releases. This is reasonable, but there are many exceptions. The five Rossini overtures from 1945 sound at least as fine as Semiramide and William Tell from 1951 and 1953, respectively. The 1950 live recording of L’Italiana in Algeri, taken from the first concert of the NBC Symphony’s American tour, is decidedly inferior sound-wise, but its inclusion is justified because it is Toscanini’s only recording save one from 1936 with the New York Philharmonic. Likewise many older recordings in somewhat limited but still quite listenable sound could have been added here, for example the rare original version of the overture to Aida from 1940 and many other operatic excerpts.)

Be that as it may, this tenth volume is still a fine selection of Toscanini’s best conducting if not best choice of repertoire. I don’t hear any marked improvement in the sound of the Rossini overtures due to the fabled new remastering, so be sure to get the old Gold Seal edition: it sounds at least as fine and is far more complete. For the rest, this the best place. The sound in Respighi is incredible for its time. The Forza overture and the Dance of the Hours, both of them popular showpieces, are played with a hair-raising feeling for drama, yet with elegant singing line that makes you unaware of the relatively fast tempos. Not even Toscanini’s boundless affection for Catalani (he named two of his children, Walter and Wally, to characters from his operas) can make his two pieces anything more than competent, but they are pleasant trifles worth an occasional listen. The Donizetti overture is a gem of musical humour. It baffles me why it’s not more often played. Perhaps because no other conductor is able to match Toscanini’s breathtaking virtuosity. ( )
  Waldstein | Feb 23, 2016 |
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