listened in awe to the ‘sharp as a gnat’s-kneecap’ clarity of
the ghostly effects of the Boston Orchestra flute player’s triple
tonguing in Ravel’s La Valse. It is amazing to realize
that this classic recording was made as long ago as 1957. This
album is another in the latest incarnations of the renowned
RCA Living Stereo series, each incarnation revealing more and
more detail as technical advances moved onwards through acoustical
LP, digital, CD etc to this new superb SACD format.
Munch, a conductor of the widest musical culture, but noted
particularly for his interpretations of French and German music,
was music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1949
until he resigned in 1962 at the age of 70. The Boston Symphony
first performed in public on October 22, 1881. The orchestra personnel
were appointed by virtue of their virtuosity by the conductor,
not the orchestra management. This album is testimony to the
requisite high performance standards.
La Valse shimmers excitingly, sensually; the music is
ghostly, erotic, flirtatious. The mind’s eye so easily can visualise
sweeping gowns, fluttering fans and peacock-proud hussars in
elaborate uniforms. But beyond this, Munch points up Ravel’s
markings thus presenting an unflinching picture of decadence,
of a doomed world from which the glitter would soon fade in
the holocaust of world war.
ever-popular Bolero is given a taut and characterful
reading full of pride and swagger but also with sly sardonic
humour. Ravel’s Rhapsodie Espagnol, under Munch, is equally
persuasive. ‘Prélude à la nuit’ is mysterious, slightly sinister
and threatening, the jazz element sounding deliciously decadent.
This is a night that is glamorous and sensual with a perfumed
atmosphere of dangerous love and romance. Malagueña’s
voluptuous slides are redolent of swishing skirts, castanets
and clicking heels. The ‘Habanera’, proud disdainful, exciting
and sexy, with its abrupt twists and turns, also has a sweet
poignancy. Munch gives the final ‘Feria’ movement all this too
but contrasts it with threatening sudden darkness. Throughout
there is wonderful ensemble playing and marvellous clarity.
to Debussy and Images performed in full (not every recording
includes all the sections of this colourful, atmospheric work).
For ‘Gigues’, Munch realises the mocking irony behind the folkdance
material; probably, as the notes claim, from Normandy
but equally the provenance could be somewhere over the Channel
as far north as Scotland or west as Ireland. The misty opening is quite magical,
the folkdance (recognisable as the Keel Row) tentative
at first then oscillating between the merry, the plaintive and
the jaunty. Pleasingly subtle touches abound and, often, ear-catching
phrasing fires the imagination. The three-movement Iberia
section forms the greater part of Iberia. The first is ‘Par les rues et par les
chemins’ (In the streets and byways) and Munch seems to capture
its very heart and spirit in phrasing, rhythm and dynamics.
Munch floats the music of ‘Les parfums de la nuit’ (Fragrances
of the Night) beguilingly. Here is all the sweet tremor and
languor of a summer night, aromatic with hints of tiny hidden
movements then a sudden darkness and chill as if a cloud is
passing over the moon suggesting amours dangerous as
well as sweet. Suddenly dawn brings all the bustle and excitement
of ‘Le matin d’un jour de fête’ (The morning of a Festival Day)
and castanets, harps, xylophone, snare drums and trumpets usher
in the festivities, the music growing in excitement and anticipation;
the mind’s eye seeing gorgeously dressed young girls riding
side-saddle behind proud young grandees, colourful dancing in
the streets, street performers and excited jostling crowds.
The final movement ‘Rondes des printemps’ is a sophisticated
setting of an ancient dance song ‘Nous irons plus au bois’ In
it there are elements of the wood magic and languor of L’Après
midi d’un faune and the eager folkdance material of earlier
Images movements. Once again the virtuosity and imaginative
playing of the Boston musicians encourage the most extravagant flights of imagination.
RCA Living Stereo classic recording wonderfully enhanced by
the new SACD technology. Heartily recommended.