Arturo Toscanini

Brahms: Requiem

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It's not just that it's in English, although Brahms' Ein deutsches Requiem sung as A German Requiem is nowhere near as convincing as the real thing. It's not that the recording was made in 1943, although RCA's recording sounds more antediluvian than antebellum. It's not the NBC Symphony and the Westminster Choir along with soprano Vivian Della Chiesa and Herbert Janssen who sound like they're terrified, although they do sound more frightened than any orchestra this side of Reiner's Chicago Symphony, Szell's Cleveland Orchestra, or Karajan's Berlin Philharmonic. It's that Arturo Toscanini's conducting is terrible. He's too light in the heavy movements, too heavy in the light movements, too fast in the slow movements, too slow in the fast movements, too reserved in the heartfelt movements, too sentimental in the reserved movements, too thin in thick textures, too thick is thin in textures, and too self-pitying everywhere. Listen to the opening of the second movement, the movement here is unfortunately sung as "Behold, All Flesh Is as the Grass": the rhythms are clipped, the lines are drooping, and the tempo is mincing. Listen to the climax of the third movement, the movement here unfortunately sung as "Lord, Teach Me": the drive is negligible, the pedal-point is unrelenting, and the chorus is cotton-mouthed. And so it goes straight through to the ponderous yet superficial closing movement. Even with stiff competition from Daniel Barenboim, John Eliot Gardiner, Herbert von Karajan, Lorin Maazel, Kurt Masur, Roger Norrington, and André Previn, Toscanini's is possibly the worst Ein deutsches Requiem ever recorded. Guild's restoration is hard, thin, stiff, and crusty.

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