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Charles Munch in Boston. The Early Years CD 1
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Iberia (1905) [21:23]
(30 October 1953)
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Le Tombeau de Couperin (1914-17) [15:32]
(17 October 1953)
Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955)
La Danse des Morts (1941) [32:37]
Arnold Moss (speaker); Mariquita Moll (soprano); Betty Allen (mezzo); Gerard Souzay (baritone); NEC Chorus
(19 December 1952)
CD 2
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Tristan and Isolde — Prelude and Liebestod (1865) [18:09]
(11 October 1952)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No.5 in B flat D485 (1816) [24:56]
(11 October 1952)
Symphony No.8 in B minor D759 Unfinished (1822) [29:44]
(13 December 1952)
CD 3
Daniel-François Esprit AUBER (1782-1871)
La Muette de Portici — Overture (1828) [7:43]
(26 December 1953)
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 4 in A Major Op. 90 (1833) [25:29]
(1 November 1952)
Richard SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No. 2 in C Major, Op. 61 (1845-46) [36:14]
(12 November 1955)
CD 4
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg — Act III Excerpts (1868) [11:58]
(24 January 1953)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K 551 Jupiter (1788) [24:09]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat Op.73 Emperor (1809) [37:45]
Lelia Gousseau (piano)
(18 October 1952)
CD 5
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 2 in D Major Op. 36 (1801) [32:06]
(17 October 1953)
Symphony No. 3 in E Flat, Op. 55, Eroica (1803) [46:38]
(30 October 1953)
CD 6
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Symphony No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 78 (1886) [32:56]
E. Power Biggs (organ)
(1 January 1954)
Edouard LALO (1823-1892)
Symphonie Espagnole, Op. 21 (1874) [27:50]
Ruth Posselt (violin)
(11 December 1953)
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)
Concerto pour flûte et orchestre (1934) [18:15]
Doriot Anthony (flute)
(9 January 1954)
CD 7
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Eine Faust Ouverture (1840) [12:36]
(26 February 1954)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations on a theme by Haydn (St. Anthony Variations) Op. 56a (1873) [17:23]
(21 November 1953)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat Major Op 83 (1878-81) [47:37]
Claudio Arrau (piano)
(9 January 1953)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA6015 [7 CDs: 79:43 + 73:59 + 79:35 + 74:02 + 78:49 + 79:12 + 77:46]

 

Experience Classicsonline


I’ve made the point that WHRA is becoming a selective but big hitter in the world of multi-volume historical broadcast material. This release serves only to intensify the feeling that the market for American performances of this time period – roughly 1952-53 - is seemingly limitless and that West Hill is availing itself of some of the most intriguing items. I’m thinking recently of their Mitropoulos, Szell and Ruth Posselt sets – but there are others equally worthy of exploration.

The Munch/Boston commercial discography is well known and admired. But augmentation through live performances and the inclusion of works not otherwise set down in the studio proves, as here, of major interest. Regarding the latter category we have Beethoven’s Second Symphony – perhaps surprisingly not recorded by these forces – as well as Schumann’s Second and Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. This adds up to a major Munchfest as far as I’m concerned – and the critical standards set by this company are properly maintained throughout this well annotated seven disc box set.

Debussy’s Iberia is evocative, well recorded and in clear and clean sound. It’s quite similar to the famed commercial LP. The Ravel, as noted, is a lucky survival not otherwise known to Munch collectors. An NBC performance also exists but it was a broadcast, as was this one. Lithe, liassom and sporting an especially lovely Minuet where the harp is well balanced with the strings this is a treasurable expansion of repertoire for the completist. The first disc ends with a big if occasionally problematic work that Munch had premiered in Paris in 1940 and recorded the following year – Honegger’s La Danse des Morts. We have a full complement of singers – Souzay at his youthful best, Mariquita Moll, Betty Allen, and the delamatory tones of the speaker, Arnold Moss. The work’s peak is surely the luminous writing of the Lamento, one of those slow movements in which Honegger excelled almost all his contemporaries – tremendously moving.

Munch proves a powerful Wagnerian in the extracts here - especially Tristan and perhaps even more so in the seldom performed Eine Faust overture. Schubert’s Fifth Symphony is taken straight – maybe a little too much so. The slow movement doesn’t glow quite as warmly as it might. The same composer’s B minor Symphony makes a good contrast with the LP; it’s rather faster, a touch more dynamic and its expressive curve is more sharply etched. Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony is subject to rather less pleasing sound – it’s far more constricted. The performance though is fizzingly fast with a Saltarello of great energy and rhythmic verve. Schumann’s C major Symphony is similarly buoyant and well sprung with a vein of poetic lyricism.

There’s a 1952 performance of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony that marries a thrusting bite with an emphatic slow movement. Munch was certainly not renowned as a repeat merchant but this performance finds him just a little unsubtle. Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto is with the French pianist Lelia Gousseau, who tends to slow at cadential or pragraph-ending points, rather quixotically (the effect is not unlike those frequent rallentandi before turn-over points on 78 album  sets). She’s not finger perfect but has a light, typically French pearly sound and lavishes time and space on a limpid slow movement.

The otherwise unrecorded Beethoven Symphony is valuable. Munch very seldom programmed it though we don’t learn why; maybe he simply didn’t much like it, though nothing like this comes across in what is a powerful, perfectly acceptable reading. The Eroica concludes the fifth disc. Munch admirers will note the strong similalities between this and the LP. It doesn’t add much to the known parameters of his conducting but it does reinforce his credentials in the canon. There’s also a performance of the Saint-Saëns Third Symphony – how could there not be – with E. Power Biggs, Britain’s most spectacular organ export to the U.S.A. since Stokowski. This receives a ripe, vital thoroughly masculine reading, though again not one  dissimilar to their famous recording. I mentioned Ruth Posselt earlier and here she is again, to play the Lalo Symphonie Espagnole (sans Intermezzo). She gives a spick and span reading, polished but not especially personalised – not as much as, say, the reading Campoli gave in New York with George Szell on his debut in the city just a week after Posselt’s Boston performance, and which is contained in a companion WHRA box.. Ibert’s Flute Concerto is given a charming and ballet-light reading by Doriot Anthony.

The last volume includes that fine Eine Faust overture and a malleably shaped, naturally phrased Brahms Haydn variations. Then there’s the final item, Claudio Arrau in Brahms’s B flat Concerto. This is a leonine, commanding affair; superbly played, powerful, exceptional. It’s not entirely dissimilar to the Gilels-Jochum DG in its strength and poetic truthfulness. And in its comprehensive technical and expressive control it remains strongly in the imagination. You should hear it.

It seals a splendid box in every way. John Canarina’s three page notes are full of insightful comments. Another thumbs up for WHRA’s imaginative investigative work.

Jonathan Woolf

 

 


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