Arturo Toscanini

Mendelssohn 200th Anniversary Tribute

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The Guild label from Switzerland offers a choice series of historical recordings, many of them drawn on the large and mostly unexplored fund of U.S. radio broadcasts from the middle 20th century. Generally the remastering is well done, and the recordings are accompanied with booklet notes that explain the significance of what you're hearing. This collection of Mendelssohn broadcasts by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini is one of the very best and can be recommended to anyone wanting to make a start at investigating the riches of historical recordings. There's one absolute standout here: the performance of the Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, by Jascha Heifetz, playing the very violin on which the work had its premiere. There was never a commercial release of this concerto by Heifetz and Toscanini, and it's a gem: Heifetz's purity of tone collides creatively with Toscanini's whirlwind approach to produce a wholly distinctive reading that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The rest of the two-disc set is filled with symphonies, orchestral pieces, and even the slow movement of the String Quintet No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 87, transcribed for orchestra (too bad people don't do stuff like that anymore), and they all remind that Toscanini was an offbeat but excellent Mendelssohn conductor. His performances of the Symphony No. 5 in D major, Op. 107, "Reformation," are justly famous for their sweeping melodies, and try out the blistering speed and punchy offbeat accents of the finale of the Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56, "Scottish," for some cheap thrills. Strongly recommended.

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