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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett



Great Conductors of the 20th Century:
CHARLES MUNCH
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)

Overture: La Princesse jaune (1871)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Rec 18 January 1951, Symphony Hall, Boston
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Symphony No. 9 'Choral' (1824)
Leontyne Price (soprano), Maureen Forrester (mezzo soprano), David Poleri (tenor), Giorgio Tozzi (bass)
New England Conservatory Chorus
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Rec 21-22 December 1958, Symphony Hall, Boston
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)

Overture: Le Corsaire (1844)
Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire
Rec 27 May 1948, Maison de la Mutualité, Paris
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Scherzo (Octet, Opus 20; arranged for string orchestra) (1825)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Rec 7 March 1960, Symphony Hall, Boston
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Symphony in C major (1855)
Orchestre National de la Radiodiffusion Française
Rec 10-11 November 1966, Radio France Studios, Paris
Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959)

Symphony No. 6 'Fantaisies Symphoniques' (1953)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Rec 23 April 1956, Symphony Hall, Boston
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Romeo & Juliet: music from the ballet (1938)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Rec 11-13 February 1957, Symphony Hall, Boston
EMI CLASSICS/IMG ARTISTS CZ5 75477 2 [2CDs: 77.23; 79.04]
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The 'Great Composers of the 20th Century' series is a joint project between IMG Artists and EMI Classics. And most worthwhile it is proving, since reassessments are being made and new material entering the catalogue.

This 2CD set of recordings conducted by Charles Munch features the work of another significant figures in 20th century music. In his interesting insert note, Marc Mandel points out that Munch succeeded Koussevitzky at the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Not an easy act to follow, to be sure, but the fact that Munch remained in his post for fourteen years, from 1949 to 1962, tells its own tale. It is no surprise, therefore, that the music collected on these two well filled discs contains a majority of Boston performances.

The opening item is a rarity, recorded in 1951 in the early stages of Munch's career in Boston. Saint-Saëns' opera La Princesse jaune hardly holds the stages of the world's theatres, but its lively overture is well worth the occasional outing. Munch brings out the music's innate vitality, and while the sound is somewhat thin, and far from the best on offer here, the performances exudes vitality.

Altogether more compelling, however, is Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, which follows on disc 1. The performance has a compelling vision and sweep, and the recording is rich and warm. The Boston Symphony Orchestra confirms its legendary credentials as a major international ensemble, and this is a hugely enjoyable experience, worth the price of the two discs on its own. The chosen tempi always feel absolutely right, allowing the music to breathe at the same time as providing an intense sweep of momentum in the faster sections. In the solo quartet, including the young Leontyne Price, work particularly well as team, although it is a pity that the booklet note neglects them (who will know the credentials of the tenor David Poleri or the bass Giorgio Tozzi, I wonder?). Also there are no texts or translations, which should have been included too. The recorded sound is generally pleasing, but in the finale the balances are sometimes odd, the chorus recessed in the perspective, wind solos sometimes too loud. In general, however, this is a really fine performance.

Disc 1 concludes with the earliest of the recordings, a sparkling Corsaire Overture by Berlioz, in sound which has stood the test of time better than we might have expected. It isn't hi-fi, though. Disc 2 opens with the sparkling gossamer textures of Mendelssohn's Octet, the Boston strings showing their excellent calibre, and the more recent recording (1960) pays dividends too.

Bizet's Symphony in C is played by the French Radio Orchestra, and Munch shapes and phrases the music with great affection. The recorded sound is acceptable enough, making this an enjoyable performance, if not one to eclipse memories of Beecham's recording with the same orchestra a few years before.

Martinu wrote his Sixth Symphony for Charles Munch and the 75th anniversary of the Boston Symphony Orchestra: 'There is one reason for this work which is clear and certain for me. I wished to write something for Charles Munch. I am impressed and I like his spontaneous approach to the music where music takes shape in a free way, flowing and freely following its movements.' What we have here, therefore, is the symphony's first-ever recording, made in Boston in 1956, a year after the same forces had given the premiere. Munch recorded the piece again eleven years later in Prague, but the sound from Boston in 1956 has come up well in this remastering, helped by what seems a rich and warm acoustic. Returning to the score a year after the premiere, orchestra and conductor play it as though they know and love it to a man. For this is a truly satisfying interpretation of a great symphony.

The collection ends with a selection from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet ballet. The recording is not so satisfying here, with some odd balances and an occasional lack of bloom. The exciting rhythms of The Death of Tybalt do not make the impact they can, and of the four pieces it is the lighter manner of the short movement entitled simply Dance which comes off best.


Terry Barfoot


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