BEETHOVEN:  Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 "Pastorale."  MOSSOLOV:  Iron Foundry.  GLAZUNOV:  From the Middle Ages - Symphonic Suite, Op. 79.  DE SABATA:  Juventus.  STRAVINSKY:  Fireworks, Op. 4
Turin Orchestra of the Italian Broadcasting Authority; Rome Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra (Beethoven)/Victor de Sabata, cond.
NAXOS 8.110859 (B) (ADD) TT:  71:07

For a maestro of his eminence—arguably Italy's foremost conductor in the generation after Toscanini (at whose 1957 funeral he conducted for the last time: Verdi's Messa di Requiem)—Victor de Sabata (1892-1967) recorded comparatively little. As far as it has been documented by recordings, his level of music-making was challenged only by Gino (ne Giuseppe) Marinuzzi, De Sabata's senior colleague at La Scala from 1934 until his murder in 1945, who left us one remarkable recording: La forza del destino, released stateside on Cetra78s after the war. Both men were composers, although De Sabata's mÈtier included concert music as well as opera—most notably the 1919 tone poem Juventus. (R.E.B. reviewed a loving version led in 2001 by De Sabata's son-in-law, Aldo Ceccato, along with two other tone poems on Hyperion—1-1/2 minutes longer than the composer's own perfervid performance on Naxos, made 70 years ago with the Turin Radio Orchestra.)

All four of these Turin performances were recorded on December 28-30, 1933, in a dry studio not unlike Toscanini's notorious 8-H at Rockefeller Center. They are the sum of his Italian recordings before WW2. What amazes, apart from De Sabata's mastery of the music, is the discipline he demanded and received from an orchestra used to playing Italian opera, not very carefully at that. In Italy Stravinsky's 1908 Feu d'artifice was still a novelty, while Mossolov's 1927 Iron Foundry was (and remains) a novelty everywhere. So, for that matter, were the two excerpts from Glazunov's ballet suite. Almost as startling as the discipline is the excellence of Mark Obert-Thorne's transfers from Italian Parlophon (Stravinsky and Glazunov), Anglicized Parlophone (Mossolov), and American Decca (!) for Juventus, music in the thrall of Richard Strauss.

I'm most grateful, however, for the restoration of De Sabata's Pastoral from British HMV pressings, declicked with "the CEDAR module."  Of the 100 or so performances I've heard of this Beethoven symphony dearest to my heart, De Sabata's remains the most cherished. Recorded at Rome's Teatro Argentina in February 1947 with the Santa Cecilia Academy Orchestra, he proceeded from bar to bar, movement to movement, as though he himself had composed it. If I seem at a loss for words, so be it; just listen and be enchanted, mono-sonics notwithstanding.

Please, Naxos, may we also have Obert-Thorn's remasterings of Debussy's Jeux and Respighi's Fontane di Roma from the same Roman period—previously available on Testament, at double the price of a Naxos CD, however. That EMI disc that also included Clouds and Festivals from the Three Nocturnes, and a La Mer that De Sabata refused to pass at the time; thus, its appearance on Testament was the first and only time ever. Perhaps Naxos will also remaster and issue on CD anything that can be pried from the clutches of British Decca, which recorded De Sabata with London Philharmonic in 1947 (leaving out, however, an Eroica that seemed uncommonly slow at the time, when Toscanini was considered sine qua non; time and maturity are not likely to change that 50-year-old reaction). But especially let us have De Sabata's overwhelming Mozart Requiem, recorded after WW2 in a Roman church with notable soloists and the "EIAR Symphony Orchestra and Chorus." Although played in a style decried by today's "original instrument" coven, it remains a consecration of such thrust, power, and sustained expression that Mozart emerges awesomely.

R.D. (February 2003)