already reviewed on this site Munch’s stereo recordings of both
the Beethoven (see review)
and the Debussy (see review)
with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. So the real question is
whether there is any point in acquiring these earlier live performances
in mono with an inferior orchestra.
the general collector the answer is certainly no. Munch’s Boston
Debussy is a classic and the Beethoven has a lot to be said
for it. For Munch completists the news could have been a lot
worse. Although there is no RAITRADE symbol to suggest access
has been had to the original tapes, a good source has been found,
far better than the very poor Markevich recordings
I was listening to recently, also with the RAI’s Turin orchestra.
The sound is firm, fairly clear if a little strident. It is
more like acetate than tape, which is possible in 1951 though
listening on headphones seems to suggest a background of tape
rumble rather than acetate hiss. There is a degree of dynamic
compression at climaxes.
Beethoven, which does not “depend” on orchestral sonorities
in the same way as Debussy, is less compromised, though even
this becomes a little tiring on the ears. There is at least
a suspicion that Munch himself does not extract anything less
than a mezzo piano from the orchestra, but people used to say
this about his Boston recordings and recent remasterings have
shown it not to be true. In the first movement he is perhaps
principally concerned with getting a very clean response from
an orchestra that does not provide this easily and there is
not the temperament one might expect. Its jaunty and likeable,
with a few spurts into a faster tempo to show he is getting
involved. This movement is a mere two seconds swifter than the
brook flows with a strong current and passionately full timbres.
Here Munch gains about a minute compared with Boston, at 11:21
compared with 12:26 (my computer timings, those in the booklet
are hopelessly wrong).
in Boston, Munch omits the repeat in the Scherzo and it really
does sound odd. His peasants must have sensed the storm coming
from the beginning for they go at a real whirl. The storm is
predictably dramatic. Tahra have a single track for these movements,
which collectively clock in at 06:05 compared with 06:18 in
Boston. The final Shepherd’s Song is bracing and jubilant, considerably
swifter than the Boston performance – 08:00 as against 09:04,
and the Turin timing includes a bit of applause.
performance is not without its positive qualities, but these
same qualities are all to be found in the Boston version together
with greater light and shade, warmer recording and better orchestral
these circumstances Debussy is made to sound more like a garish
piece of Respighi. You only have to compare the opening of the
“Jeux de vagues” with the Boston recording to hear what is missing.
Though, since a spot of quieter playing is heard towards the
end of this movement, there is again the suspicion that Munch
is concentrating on holding things together – he obtains playing
that verges on the brilliant at times – and then depending on
hedonistic drive to compensate for the lack of nuance. Again,
tempi are notably faster than in Boston – 08:09, 05:36, 07:10
compared with 08:37, 06:18, 07:59. Probably it was thrilling
to be there, but the Boston version is thrilling and a whole
lot of other things too.
are certainly some Munch recordings in the RAI archives that
are worth issuing. His Mendelssohn “Reformation” (Rome
29/4/66) enlarges considerably on the Boston version (see review
for full discussion) and the Petrassi Fifth Concerto for Orchestra
(Turin 19/4/1966) would presumably be new to his discography.
Tahra themselves dedicate much of their note to advocating an
issue of the Florence Pelléas et Mélisande (1966), the
only opera he ever conducted and of which the Maggio Musicale
archives apparently have a recording. These of course are still
under copyright and would require a licensing agreement. I fear
that an issue like this does not add anything to our knowledge
of a very fine conductor and I would suggest that archive exhumations
should concentrate on material not recorded commercially by
the artists concerned or which enlarges appreciably on the studio
versions. I doubt if even Munch enthusiasts will hear this through
more than once.