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Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 7 [complete…

Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 and 7 [complete recordings]

by Ludwig van Beethoven

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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827)

Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67

[1] I. Allegro con brio
[2] II. Andante con moto
[3] III. Allegro
[4] IV. Allegro

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 62
[5] I. Poco sostenuto – Vivace (originally issued Take 1 for Side 1)
[6] I. Poco sostenuto – Vivace (substitute Take 2 for Side 1)
[7] II. Allegretto
[8] III. Presto – Assai meno presto - Presto
[9] IV. Allegro con brio

Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York
Arturo Toscanini

Recorded: 9 April 1933 (No. 5, Live) and 9-10 April 1936, Carnegie Hall, New York City.

Naxos, 2001. TT 76:46. Liner notes by Tully Potter. Audio restoration: Mark Obert-Thorn.


In the liner notes to this disc, an excited Mr Potter babbles that “indeed one of [these recordings] has claims to be the finest interpretation of any symphony on record”. This is, of course, tosh. There is no such thing as “the finest interpretation on record”. To claim the opposite betrays lack of elementary imagination or historical perspective. But one can try to understand Mr Potter. This Fifth Symphony is a performance of rare power and grandeur. And what a sound for 1933 broadcast! As Mark Obert-Thorn explains in a “Producer’s Note”, RCA experimented with optical film which allowed to capture much longer stretches of music with greater fidelity than the direct recording on 78-rpm wax discs. The dynamic range is of course limited, and the woodwinds are rather dim, but otherwise this is incredible sonic achievement for a live recording from 1933. Most orchestral studio recordings from the 1930s are barely listenable. Live broadcasts even less so, but this one is an exception.

Mr Potter’s indiscriminate praise actually refers to the studio recording of the Seventh Symphony. One can try to understand, again. The performance is indeed “astonishing”. It was recorded directly on wax discs as usual, but two turntables were used in order to avoid the awkward stopping every four and a half minutes. Reportedly the Maestro, a reluctant recording artist in the 78-rpm era, was satisfied. The sound is even better, with greater dynamic range and more detail, than the one in the Fifth. So, it seems that superb recordings could be made even with the ordinary equipment. It’s a little mystery why there are so few of them from the 1930s. I guess the recording engineers had not mastered the new magic yet, and the process was on hit-and-miss basis. I also guess Mark Obert-Thorn has lived up to his formidable reputation for audio restoration.

I do not subscribe to the opinion that this is Toscanini in his “prime” while his later work with the NBC Symphony is mostly his “decline”. These recordings are certainly different, more expansive and less sharply accentuated, than the later remakes (1951–52). But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are better. I would say they are simply interpretations that reflect the conductor’s different ideas about the music. After all, 15–20 years is a lot of time. Personally, I prefer the NBC versions, but I can’t imagine a Toscanini buff who wouldn’t want to have these renditions with the “Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York” (aka New York Philharmonic), especially in sound so fine that it almost defies belief. ( )
  Waldstein | Feb 18, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ludwig van Beethovenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Karajan, Herbert vonsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kleiber, CarlosConductorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wiener PhilharmonikerOrchestrasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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