Debussy: Ibéria; Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune; La mer

WORKS: Ibéria; Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune; La mer
PERFORMER: NBC SO/Arturo Toscanini
Toscanini’s 1953 Debussy concert comes from Carnegie Hall rather than the boxy Studio 8H where most of his recordings were made, so you can hear the orchestral sound blooming in a real acoustic, and enjoy the sensuous quality of the sound in the middle movement of Ibéria, as well as the detail and tight rhythmic control in the outer movements. In L’après-midi, I wish that Toscanini would let go a bit more: the opening flute solo is confined by the bar-lines, and the rhapsodic nature of the music doesn’t quite flower under such strict control. The more symphonic structure of La mer suits him better, and his care for balance and sonority makes for a tight performance. You can hear how he does it in the extensive rehearsal sequences which take up over 90 minutes of the set, though the sound isn’t as good as in the concert itself, and it’s quite a strain on the ears – a transcript of his words would have been useful. There’s the usual amount of shouting and execrable singing, but no temper tantrums, and his alertness to every line of the score is exemplary – and he rehearsed from memory.