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Harold Moores

A Hi-Fi Spectacular!
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Symphony No. 3 in C minor, Op. 78, Organ (1886) [34’44].
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

La mer (1905) [22’52].
Jacques IBERT (1890-1962)

Escales (1922) [15’32].
Berj Zamkochian (organ, Saint-Saëns)
Bernard Zighera and Leo Litwin, (pianos, Saint-Saëns).
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
Rec. Symphony Hall, Boston, on April 5th-6th, 1959 (Saint-Saëns), December 9th, 1956 (Debussy) and December 10th, 1956 (Ibert). ADD
BMG RCA LIVING STEREO SACD 82876 61387 2 [73’04]

There is an enormous amount to admire in Munch’s reading of Saint-Saëns’ ‘Organ’ symphony, right from the glowing strings of the opening through to the truly superbly articulated first-movement climax. Munch gets real delicacy from his Bostonians in the Poco adagio, and the organ’s entry in the finale is certainly highly impressive. Perhaps the Scherzo could be more on-the-ball, though. This remains one of the top recommendations for this piece (I rate Frémaux and the CBSO alongside it – EMI Eminence CDEMX2259).

But the real value of this disc lies in the Debussy. This has to be one of the most sensitive of all La mers, fluent and fluid with a real francophile feel to the dancing rhythms – this is a real Frenchman’s response to the sea, wherever he may be. If the ‘Jeux de vagues’ could possibly be more elusive, it remains a convincing account. The final movement, ‘Dialogue du vent et de la mer’, is supremely harmonically sensitive, the Bostonians’ responses miraculously fast to Debussy’s language. Brass blaze forth magnificently towards the end, the recording helping to delineate the various strands in this notoriously difficult ending.

Finally, Jacques Ibert’s Escales of 1922, music that seems to fit perfectly into this programme. Heard in a performance as carefully-prepared as this one, it seems laughable that this delightful, masterly-scored work is not heard more often. Munch underlines the sensuality of the first movement (‘Rome-Palerma’, marked ‘Calme’). There is even a feeling of ecstasy at the climax of this movement, and dark clouds are few and far between. The very snake-charmer-like oboe of ‘Tunis-Nefta’ is immensely appealing (Ralph Gomberg is the superb oboist here). The bustling, castanet decorated ‘Valencia’ makes for a playful finale. The sense of the Bostonians having fun is almost palpable.

A wonderfully programmed, disc, the sound is fully up to its claim of ‘Hi-Fi Spectacular!’. But the standard and integrity of the performances take this way higher than a mere sonic show-disc.

Colin Clarke

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