Essential Toscanini Recordings
These are some of the best recordings to get if you want to become familiar with Toscanini's art and start your own collection.
Be sure to visit About the Collection for information about the music samples.
All music examples in this site are protected under the "Fair Use" Section 107 of the Copyright Law (U.S. Code, Title 17).
Official RCA releases
Beethoven: Symphonies - Vols. 1-5
Although some earlier performances may be slightly better than some of these, the performance and sound quality of these are excellent throughout.
Berlioz: Harold in Italy - Vol. 33
My favorite Berlioz piece.
Berlioz: Romeo and Juliet - Vol. 34
Some of the most spirited playing ever put to record.
Brahms: Symphonies - Vols. 6-9
I prefer the Philharmonia and some of the other earlier broadcasts but these are in better sound and the performances are still absolutely stunning.
Catalani: La Wally (Prelude to Act IV) - Vol. 50
One of the most beautiful and spellbinding miniatures ever recorded. The disc is worth it even if it only contained this 6 minute prelude.
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 & 5 - Vol. 17
The 5th is totally stunning. Sound quality is also good on Red Seal.
Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition / Elgar Enigma Variations - Vol. 35
A stroll past sketches by Mussorgsky's friend evoking wonderful images and sketches in music of Elgar's friends. Both of these are among my favorite pieces.
Respighi: Pines and Fountain of Rome / Feste Roman - Vol. 32
Brilliant tone pictures.
Rossini: Overtures - Vol. 47
All great fun.
Schubert: Symphonies 8 & 9 - Vol. 14
Great pieces of music.
Strauss: Don Quixote/Death and Transfiguration - Vol. 30
This D&T is in my opinion is one of the most powerful pieces ever written and performed. The labored breathing at the start, the recollection of events of a life lived and the final resignation, acceptance, and release. Turn off the lights and turn this up.
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 - Vol. 18
A full blooded performance.
Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony - Vol. 19
Another very dramatic Tchaikovsky piece.
Verdi: Otello - Vol. 58
Gives some idea of what life for the average La Scala or Met goer must have been like. Do NOT get this Gold Seal release, but the far superior one on Guild.
Wagner: Any disc of Wagner excerpts.
My favorites are Vol. 49 (no singing) or Vol. 53 (singing).
Independent broadcast releases
Beethoven: Symphonies - 1939
My favorites are an awesome Leonore No. 2, and the greatest Eroica ever.
Beethoven Symphony No. 5 - 1933, No. 7 - 1936
These performances with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York are legendary. Don't think of getting any pressing other than the superb transfers on Naxos 8.110840 by Mark Obert-Thorn.
The 1936 Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 on RCA Gold Seal Vol. 64.
Obert-Thorn's original transfer on Pearl.
His new transfer on Naxos.
Bizet: Carmen Suite - 1943
Even better than the excellent studio version in RCA GS Vol. 34
Brahms: Symphonies - Philharmonia 1952
Even greater performances than the studio series. Best sound on Testament.
Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2 - 1948
Best sound on Arkadia.
Schubert: Symphony No. 8 - 1939
Greatest "Unfinished" ever. Fantastic transfer on Guild.
Tchaikovsky: Manfred Symphony - 1948
Even better than the 1949 performance.
Vaughan Williams: Fantasia on a Theme by Tallis - 1938
A stunning performance rich in detail and nuance. Unlike modern recordings in reverberant halls, the dry acoustics of Studio 8-H allows Toscanini to bring out the detail and inner beauty to incredible effect here. The sound is so good on Guild, it is hard to believe it is from 1938.
Verdi: La Traviata - 1946
The rehearsal material on Relief showcases some of Toscanini's infamous outbursts of temper. I am guessing that a lot of the musicians were probably trying to keep from laughing. It is amazing what Toscanini accomplishes and how the playing dramatically improves. I actually listen to it regularly, it is so much fun. Incidentally, most all of the other rehearsal material I have shows Toscanini in a very workman like manner with little or no excitement to liven the proceedings. Music and Arts has the complete dress rehearsal that surpasses in elan the actual broadcast.
Rehearsal with a little excitement. (Act II, Scene 2 "Chorus of Gypsies")
and a little singing (Act II, Scene 2 "Alfredo! You?").
Again but from the dress rehearsal.
And now, the broadcast.
Verdi: Requiem - 1940
A wonderful performance with a Dies Irae that will strike fear into the most devout atheist. Even better than the excellent 1951.
Wagner: Final 4 April 1954 concert
Make sure you get the Music and Arts stereo pressing and don't worry about the minor lapse in the Tannhauser. It is not as bad as you might have heard.