For Die-Hard Toscanini & Karajan Completists Only
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 01/30/2005
(2 out of 5 stars)
"One has to wonder why Andante has given such elaborate presentation to the two performances of Verdi's 'Falstaff' in this 4 CD set. It contains two productions of the opera from the Salzburg Festival--Toscanini's in 1937, Karajan's precisely twenty years late in 1957. Each is a live recording, and each is in less than optimal sound. Indeed, the 1937 recording is in execrable, unacceptable sound, and although it preserves the Falstaff of Mariano Stabile, it is hard to imagine shelling out 60 dollars or so to acquire that alone (and there is at least one other Stabile 'Falstaff' performance--from La Scala--available, I believe). As for the Karajan performance, he made a studio recording of the opera with virtually the same cast in much superior sound. It would be one thing if this were the only Toscanini 'Falstaff' on record, but he made one of the all-time great recordings of any opera in 1950 (with Giuseppe Valdengo as Falstaff). There could be the argument that the live performances are livelier, more exciting, different than the studio versions, but I frankly don't hear that here. Perhaps this is so marginally in the 1937 Toscanini, but I simply couldn't get past the terrible sound in which it was recorded apparently off the air. I am not generally one who gets exercised about recorded sound quality, but there are so many swishes, pitch distortions, drop-outs, volume variations, and indescribable extraneous noises that I probably would not have finished listening to the performance if I hadn't known I was going to write a review. It's that bad.
Still, for those who, for whatever reason, want to collect these two particular performances, this box is probably the best opportunity for that. The Toscanini has been released before, I believe, but I have not heard any prior versions. Who knows, maybe the sound has actually been cleaned up a bit here. If so, I certainly wouldn't want to hear the others.
Not recommended except for the very few who have their own reasons for purchasing the set.
One magnificent and one really great one
Erik Aleksander Moe | Oslo, Norway | 02/01/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I read the review below before I bought this release. I chose to ignore it because I wanted a live recording with Gobbi in addition to a little better sounding restoration of the legendary '37 performance. As it turned out I haven't regretted the purchase. The '37 performance was in a little better sound and the great Gobbi sounded even better than on the great studio recording.
The 1937 recording Stabile and Toscanini are the stars and it shows. Stabile's relish of the words and his perfect way of singing are so in tune with the character. I have always relished his performances and he is at his very best here. There are also two other recordings of his Falstaff, one with Serafin and one with de Sabata, on various labels but it is this one that we really get to hear him at his very best. This is helped by the conductor, Arturo Toscanini. Toscanini is IMHO the best Falstaff conductor of the 20th Century. He blends the great lyrical score and the comical libretto with such skill and apparent ease. His timings are always perfect and his tempi are never too slow or too fast. You can also hear the same mastery in his famous 1950 broadcast. All the other principals are also really great but they do take a backseat to the larger than life Stabile and Toscanini but are really great.
In terms of the sound. No miracles have been performed here, but it is definitely better than what I have earlier (I also have the Lyrica release). You can hear more of everything, but that also included more noise. The great Ward Marston has restored the recording and he has once again proved to be one of the two great greatest restoration artists in the world (Mark Obert-Thorn being the other)
In the other performance, from 1957, we have Tito Gobbi as Falstaff. I loved his performance of Falstaff in the famous studio recording. It is true that most of the cast members on that studio recording is also here. There are exceptions however, the most notable one being Giulietta Simionato as Mistress Quickly. The other difference is Anna Maria Canali as Mistress Page. Herbert von Karajan conducts this one and it is performance almost to the day 20 years after it's predecessor. Karajan cannot match Toscanini's mastery but he does a great job with it nonetheless. It has the same excellence as the studio recording made the year before but bit more lively and more involved, especially from Schwarzkopf. Simionato is a gem as Quickly with her great range and magnificent voice.
The sound here is not bad and considering the sound quality of the '62 Trovatore, also done in Salzburg, is the sound perfectly acceptable.
So to conclude I have to recommend this one especially to those who is interested in historical recording, but also those that are curious about how this opera was done live in the past."