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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
CD 1
Symphony No.6, in F, Pastoral, op.68 (1808) [37:36]
Symphony No.7 in A, op.72 (1812) [37:53]
CD 2 Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, op.37 (1800) [34:59] Piano Concerto No.5 in Eb, op.73 (1809) [38:55]
CD3 Symphony No.3 in Eb, Eroica, op.55 (1803) [47:38]
Lento assai (String Quartet No.16 in F, op.135) [8:58]
Violin Concerto in D, op.61 (1806) [38:16] Overture: Leonore No.2, op.72b [14:38]
Violin Concerto in D, op.61 (1806) [46:43] Overture: Die Weihe des Hauses, op.124 (1822) [10:41]
Claudio Arrau (piano), Clara Haskil (piano),  Jascha Heifetz (violin), Zino Francescatti (violin),
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Münch
rec. 8 December 1956 (Symphony No.6), 15 October 1954 (Symphony No.7), 23 April 1954 (Violin Concerto – Heifetz), 30 September 1955 (Die Weihe des Hauses), 25 November 1955 (Violin Concerto – Francescatti), 21 January 1956 (Leonore No.2), 30 November 1957 (Piano Concerto No.5 and Symphony No.3), 2 November 1959 (Piano Concerto No.3), live in Symphony Hall, Boston, MA AAD
WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA6014 [5 CDs: 75:29 + 73:55 + 56:36 + 52:54 + 57:25]


Experience Classicsonline

Charles Münch was Serge Koussevitzky’s successor at the helm of the Boston Symphony Orchestra holding the position from 1949, three years after his debut with it, until 1962 after which he returned to Paris to become president of the École Normale de Musique. In 1967 he formed the Orchestre de Paris, at the instigation of André Malraux, French Minister of Culture. Münch died in  1968 in Richmond, Virginia, whilst on an American tour with his new orchestra.

Münch was renowned for his interpretations of the modern French repertoire, especially Debussy, Honegger and Ravel, was supreme in Berlioz and made a lot of records. However, one composer he is seldom, if ever, associated with, is Beethoven. This is strange for several reasons, not least because during his tenure in Boston he regularly programmed the music of J S Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Wagner – as a working conductor he would naturally conduct the classical and romantic German repertoire and recordings of Beethoven by him have been issued. However, Beethoven just simply isn’t the first, or perhaps even the eleventh composer one would associate with this conductor.

Hopefully, this boxed set will help to change many minds on this subject.

These five CDs cover, basically, the second half of the 1950s and they are well worth investigating. John Canarina, in his fine note in the booklet, goes into detail about Münch’s inspiration and interpretations. Fascinating though this is, this isn’t the place to look at these things, what we are interested in is how these performances work for the listener.

The Pastoral flows beautifully, with tempi faster than many give today – I am convinced that performances have become slower over the years, David Robertson must agree with me for in the last couple of years he’s been giving Beethoven 5 at breakneck speeds but with complete control and all the drama and poetry you could want, anyone who heard his Proms performance this year will agree with me – and surely this is how this music should be played, with a spirit and charm. The first movement dances along (no exposition repeat, but that was common in the 1950s, indeed repeats are often ignored in these performances and I won’t mention it again) with a cheerful gait, the Scene by the Brook is all gentleness and relaxation. The Peasants are bucolic and the Storm is quite frightening in its intensity. Maybe the Shepherd’s Thanksgiving is just a tad hard driven by comparison with the rest of the work, but no matter, this is as fine a performance as I’ve heard in some time.

The 7th which follows is another passionate performance, full of  all the elements which go to make up this masterwork. The first movement fairly trips the light fantastic, a trifle measured at times, but most exhilarating. The slow movement is a lesson in how to pace the music exactly as it should be, Münch finding exactly the right Allegretto tempo, neither too fast nor too slow, it’s spot–on. The scherzo is full bloodied and the finale, which contains a couple of odd tempo changes, where the music is held back for a moment or two, is fiery and forthright.

The Eroica (on disk 3) is equally good. The first movement gets off to a sparkling start and the tempo (quick, of course) is rigidly held almost throughout (rubato aside) and what an interpretation this is! The funeral march is even more impressive. A flowing, but slow, tempo is chosen, the music moves but is also suitably funereal. Quite an achievement! It’s dramatic and affecting, the coda being tenderness itself. Scherzo and finale seem to be one sweep of music, with solid tempi and a wide range of expression.

The two Piano Concertos (on disk 2) are given by a great Beethovenian and a genius of the instrument - Arrau and Haskil. I first discovered Haskil’s Beethoven when I bought an old Decca Ace of Clubs LP of the 4th Concerto, with the London Philharmonic under Carlo Zecchi (now available on ANDROMEDA ANDRCD 5003 (3 CDs) – coupled with Beethoven 3rd Concerto and 5 Concertos by Mozart) re–issued from 78s and recorded on 7 June 1947 in the Kingsway Hall. I was instantly hooked to this woman’s playing. Rudolf Serkin called her “the perfect Clara”, and many others, ranging from Dinu Lipatti to Nikita Magaloff, equalled that assessment. Haskil, like Solomon (another pianist whose work I could not live without), was an aristocrat of the keyboard; her Mozart is “to die for” (as they say) and the poetry and deep insight she brought to her playing make her every performance a special occasion. This performance of the 3rd Concerto is magnificent. Perfect tempi, excellent orchestral contribution, playing of the very highest standard from Haskil, who doesn’t put a finger wrong, never pushing the music, just letting it happen before our ears. The explosion from the audience at the end is testimony enough to the greatness of this interpretation. It is worth buying this set for this performance alone.

Arrau starts the 5th Concerto at a cracking pace and the ensuing tutti is bold and dynamic, flying along without a care in the world. It’s an exciting and exhilarating opening. When Arrau makes his next entry things have settled down a bit but the momentum continues. This is a very fine performance but it lacks the exquisite poetry of Haskil. It’s more an outright virtuoso performance, but that’s not enough. No matter what I write I am left feeling that this is yet another fine performance and Münch is, as before, a sympathetic accompanist.

The two performances of the Violin Concerto, given 18 months apart, show very different temperaments at work, but both are equally valid, if sometimes questionable. With Heifetz, as I’ve written elsewhere, whilst the performance is always top notch, one has the feeling that we are listening to Heifetz’s Beethoven, not necessarily Beethoven’s Beethoven. But having said that he is always a marvel and a joy to listen to. Despite this performance having the feeling of being rushed (Heifetz takes six and an half minutes less than Francescatti) there is much to be enjoyed here: Heifetz’s passagework, his glowing tone in the highest registers and perhaps he uses just a little more light and shade than Francescatti who doesn’t have the dynamism of Heifetz (but then, who did?) but he excels in the lyrical moments, bringing a warmth to his performance, which is lacking in the other. At one point in the first movement Münch allows some rather vulgar tutti violin sounds, where the attack is too brutal, and it does spoil an otherwise smooth and enjoyable performance. I am not going to choose between them – they’re both equally valid interpretations and as such should be heard fairly and they are both worth having.

It might seem odd to include four Concerto performances in a set dedicated to a  conductor but Münch lets the orchestra play, not merely accompany, and each work is a fair joint effort with the soloists.


Of the three fillers, the Overtures receive cracking performances while the orchestral version of the Lento assai  from the last String Quartet, receives a performance given in memory of the Orchestra’s Librarian who had recently died, receives an heart–felt performance.


The sound is excellent, if slightly boxy at times in Die Weihe des Hauses, and Pristine Audio is to be praised for the work undertaken on the original tapes. This set is wholly successful and is a definite must for just about anyone interested in music! This is above a mere historical re–issue, it’s a living document of great interpretations and performances.
Bob Briggs


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