Charles Munch - The Complete New York Philharmonic Recordings
Camille SAINT-SAňNS (1835-1921)
Symphony No.3 in C minor, op.78 Organ (1886) [31:11]
Vincent d’INDY (1851-1931)
Symphony on a French mountain air, Op.25 (1886) [25:04]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major K467 (1785) [27:28]
Radio introductions by Deems Taylor and talks [1:19 + 3:11 + 1:56 + 1:02]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Symphony No. 35 in D major, K385 Haffner (1783) [16:23]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No.2 in A major, S.125 (1839-40, rev. 1849, 1861) [19:14]
Emmanuel CHABRIER (1841-1894)
Bourrťe fantasque (1891, orch. Mottl, 1897) [5:18]
Robert Casadesus (piano: D’Indy, Liszt, Mozart);
…douard Nies-Berger (organ); Walter Hendl and Arthur Schuller (piano: Saint-SaŽns)
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Charles Munch
rec. 10 November 1947, Carnegie Hall (Saint-SaŽns); 20 December 1948, Columbia 30th Street Studios, NYC (d’Indy and Mozart Concerto): 19 December 1948, live at Carnegie Hall (Mozart Haffner; Liszt; Chabrier)
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC448 [56:00 + 76:58]

Mark Obert-Thorn, who has made these transfers, tells us in a note that Charles Munch was due to make his debut with the Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York (PSONY) in December 1939. Delayed by the war, his first appearance was postponed until January 1947. He was a success and was invited to return towards the end of that year when Columbia recorded the Saint-SaŽns symphony in Carnegie Hall under studio conditions. In December 1948, during another Munch visit, the d’Indy work and the Mozart concerto were set down, again as studio recordings. These three works were to constitute the entirety of Munch’s commercial discography with the PSONY owing to his contract with the Boston Symphony (1949-62). He was to return to the podium of what had, by then, become the New York Philharmonic for further guest appearances between 1965 and 1967.

Here, then, we have all three of the PSONY/Munch recordings, all transferred from American Columbia LPs. To fill out the set Mr Obert-Thorn has added most of a broadcast concert given on 19 December 1948 – the d’Indy was also played in the concert but, for obvious reasons, is not duplicated. The concert recordings are taken from a tape dubbing of original acetates.

The Saint-SaŽns gets a super performance which won’t disappoint anyone who knows Munch’s classic Boston recording (review). Munch invests the first movement with ample energy and forward momentum. The sound is really pretty good, even if the violins are somewhat bright; there’s plenty of body to the overall sound. The slow movement glows – Munch gets it just right – and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the soft organ registers. There’s bite and drive in the third movement where the Presto section goes at a real lick. At times the recording does come under a bit of strain in the louder stretches of the finale. Also I detected some pitch wavering in loud passages. However, none of this got in the way of my enjoyment of a spirited performance. Apparently, this was only the second recording ever made of the symphony and it’s an excellent performance.

There’s an off-air recording of Munch conducting the d’Indy symphony in Boston during the 1950s. It’s an enjoyable performance in which the pianist was his niece, Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer (review). For this earlier New York performance Munch had the services of a better-known pianist, Robert Casadesus. It seemed to me that the sound has rather more depth than in the Saint-SaŽns and the violins are not quite as bright in tone. Casadesus is a dashing soloist and even though the recording is getting on for 70 years old the colours of d’Indy’s score come out well. This is a work to which I sense Munch was ideally suited with its mix of panache and poetry. He and Casadesus do it proud and, as in the Saint-SaŽns symphony, the orchestra plays very well.

The performance of the Mozart concerto is big in conception. I found a good deal to enjoy in the outer movements. The central Andante is taken at a slow romantic tempo. This treatment is of its time, but I fear I found it rather snooze-inducing. The first movement includes a cadenza by Casadesus himself (11:39-13:27). This is very dynamic and large scale; which is in keeping with the style of the performance as a whole. The finale is lively indeed – the music is invested with brio. The recording gives quite a degree of prominence to the piano and I found the sound a bit fierce in tuttis but overall the recording has come up well.

We learn from the notes that Munch never made a commercial recording of a Mozart symphony, so this recording of the ‘Haffner’ is valuable. Munch devotees will doubtless be aware of an off-air Boston recording of the ‘Jupiter’ (review). His account of the ‘Haffner’ is enjoyable if brief – in John Canarina’s entertaining phrase, the conductor ‘rarely met a repeat he liked’. The first movement is spirited while Munch brings a pleasing elegance to the Andante. His traversal of the finale is very energetic.

Casadesus can be heard again in the Liszt Second Piano Concerto. I’m afraid this isn’t a piece for which I care. Much of the Allegro agitato assai is very forceful; that’s not at all unreasonable but the recording can’t quite cope and I found the sound somewhat wearing. The listening experience is more comfortable in the Allegro moderato and there’s no little poetry in the performance. The Allegro deciso is very strongly projected and, unsurprisingly this translates again into rather fiery recorded sound.

Munch concluded his live broadcast with Chabrier’s Bourrťe fantasque in the orchestration by Felix Mottl. The piece is an extrovert concert-ender and it’s good to have it here because Chabrier is absent from Much’s commercial discography. Munch breezes through it in extrovert style though there were one or two occasions when I had the sense that perhaps the orchestra was not entirely at ease. Perhaps they found it a challenge to adapt to their guest’s rather volatile way with a piece which was probably unfamiliar to them.

I enjoyed this set, especially as it includes some useful additions to the Munch discography. The studio-made recordings have come up very well indeed. The off-air recordings haven’t been entirely tamed in the louder passages but the transfers are still successful.

John Quinn

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf