I’ve made the point that WHRA is becoming a selective but big
hitter in the world of multi-volume historical broadcast material.
This release serves only to intensify the feeling that the market
for American performances of this time period – roughly 1952-53
- is seemingly limitless and that West Hill is availing itself
of some of the most intriguing items. I’m thinking recently of
their Mitropoulos, Szell and Ruth Posselt sets – but there are
others equally worthy of exploration.
commercial discography is well known and admired. But augmentation
through live performances and the inclusion of works not otherwise
set down in the studio proves, as here, of major interest. Regarding
the latter category we have Beethoven’s Second Symphony – perhaps
surprisingly not recorded by these forces – as well as Schumann’s
Second and Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin. This adds up to a
major Munchfest as far as I’m concerned – and the critical standards
set by this company are properly maintained throughout this
well annotated seven disc box set.
is evocative, well recorded and in clear and clean sound. It’s
quite similar to the famed commercial LP. The Ravel, as noted,
is a lucky survival not otherwise known to Munch collectors.
An NBC performance also exists but it was a broadcast, as was
this one. Lithe, liassom and sporting an especially lovely Minuet
where the harp is well balanced with the strings this is a treasurable
expansion of repertoire for the completist. The first disc ends
with a big if occasionally problematic work that Munch had premiered
in Paris in 1940 and recorded the following year – Honegger’s
La Danse des Morts. We have a full complement of singers – Souzay
at his youthful best, Mariquita Moll, Betty Allen, and the delamatory
tones of the speaker, Arnold Moss. The work’s peak is surely
the luminous writing of the Lamento, one of those slow movements
in which Honegger excelled almost all his contemporaries – tremendously
Munch proves a powerful
Wagnerian in the extracts here - especially Tristan and perhaps
even more so in the seldom performed Eine Faust overture. Schubert’s
Fifth Symphony is taken straight – maybe a little too much so.
The slow movement doesn’t glow quite as warmly as it might.
The same composer’s B minor Symphony makes a good contrast with
the LP; it’s rather faster, a touch more dynamic and its expressive
curve is more sharply etched. Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony
is subject to rather less pleasing sound – it’s far more constricted.
The performance though is fizzingly fast with a Saltarello of
great energy and rhythmic verve. Schumann’s C major Symphony
is similarly buoyant and well sprung with a vein of poetic lyricism.
There’s a 1952 performance
of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony that marries a thrusting
bite with an emphatic slow movement. Munch was certainly not
renowned as a repeat merchant but this performance finds him
just a little unsubtle. Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto
is with the French pianist Lelia Gousseau, who tends to slow
at cadential or pragraph-ending points, rather quixotically
(the effect is not unlike those frequent rallentandi before
turn-over points on 78 album sets). She’s not finger perfect
but has a light, typically French pearly sound and lavishes
time and space on a limpid slow movement.
The otherwise unrecorded
Beethoven Symphony is valuable. Munch very seldom programmed
it though we don’t learn why; maybe he simply didn’t much like
it, though nothing like this comes across in what is a powerful,
perfectly acceptable reading. The Eroica concludes the
fifth disc. Munch admirers will note the strong similalities
between this and the LP. It doesn’t add much to the known parameters
of his conducting but it does reinforce his credentials in the
canon. There’s also a performance of the Saint-Saëns Third Symphony
– how could there not be – with E. Power Biggs, Britain’s most
spectacular organ export to the U.S.A. since Stokowski. This
receives a ripe, vital thoroughly masculine reading, though
again not one dissimilar to their famous recording. I mentioned
Ruth Posselt earlier and here she is again, to play the Lalo
Symphonie Espagnole (sans Intermezzo). She gives a spick and
span reading, polished but not especially personalised – not
as much as, say, the reading Campoli gave in New York with George
Szell on his debut in the city just a week after Posselt’s Boston
performance, and which is contained in a companion WHRA box..
Ibert’s Flute Concerto is given a charming and ballet-light
reading by Doriot Anthony.
The last volume
includes that fine Eine Faust overture and a malleably shaped,
naturally phrased Brahms Haydn variations. Then there’s the
final item, Claudio Arrau in Brahms’s B flat Concerto. This
is a leonine, commanding affair; superbly played, powerful,
exceptional. It’s not entirely dissimilar to the Gilels-Jochum
DG in its strength and poetic truthfulness. And in its comprehensive
technical and expressive control it remains strongly in the
imagination. You should hear it.
It seals a splendid
box in every way. John Canarina’s three page notes are full
of insightful comments. Another thumbs up for WHRA’s imaginative