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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

A must-have for Toscanini fans

9/10
Author: Ed from New York, NY
8 July 2006

Arturo Toscanini was arguably among the 3 or 4 greatest conductors of the 20th Century. I was indoctrinated into the Toscanini myth by my instructors at the time and it was only years after his death that there were some criticisms.

Joseph Horowitz's book "Understanding Toscanini" pointed out that the "Maestro" pretty much limited himself to the standard repertoire. In rebuttal, it's only fair to point out that this happened later in his career and that in the early part, he played much more adventurous material having often established many well-known composers in their careers.

There was also Norman Lebrecht's hatchet job in a chapter of his book "The Maestro Myth" which, if I remember, mainly criticized his motivations. Since it's generally difficult to establish what a person's motivations are and since most people act out of more or less selfish reasons, I can only say that this documentary shows the real grandeur of the "old man" especially in regard to his opposition to the Nazi regime in Germany and the Fascist (Mussolini) one in Italy. Both of these came at the price of considerable self-sacrifice on Toscanini's part which included a beating at the hands of Fascist thugs.

There are the usual comments by the young Jimmy Levine (not sure why but these documentaries are generally thought incomplete without Jimmy.) There are also comments by Toscanini's grandson Walfredo and some singers who worked with A.T.

Toscanini's history is well-presented and there are many private film clips, many in color as well as excerpts of performances.

The old man could be a holy terror and I always thought that Richard Tucker and Herva Nelli looked thoroughly scared throughout the famous NBC Symphony Aida concert performance of 1949. This is something that few conductors, if any, could get away with in present times.

There is an almost-complete performance of Verdi's "Hymn of the Nations" (Jan Peerce, tenor) with an added Soviet-Russian national anthem the "Internationale" (apparently cut from this film.) and the "Star Spangled Banner" recorded during the Second World War. As the work was made up largely of various national anthems, it is hardly a major work of Verdi's (even if the libretto was written by his later collaborator, Arrigo Boito.).

There is also an audio CD of excerpts of other performances but these add very little to the overall package except that the excerpts are complete on the CD as they aren't in the DVD.

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