West Hill delves into the archives and returns with a six CD
set of performances from Munch in Boston given between 1954
and 1958. Admirers of Munch and his older compatriot Monteux
now have a plethora of broadcast material upon which hungrily
to feast. And when it complements, as much as duplicates, the
discography of both conductors, adding new things, then one
could hardly fail to be both impressed or thankful.
A brief overview should, I hope, whet the appetite. Munch whips
along both Berlioz overtures in the first disc to triumphant
but not breathless effect. Then follows the expanded version
of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro (which wasn’t commercially
recorded).The Boston strings play with refined assurance, and
the solo flute, clarinet and harp are as idiomatic as one would
hope. Joseph de Pasquale is the soloist in Harold in Italy
from April 1954. Munch’s famous LP with William Primrose
shouldn’t weaken interest in this broadcast. This is an exciting,
vital reading that relaxes where appropriate. It tends to more
extremity than the Primrose recording, though the Scottish violist
is far superior to de Pasquale as both a Berlioz stylist and
The second disc starts with a splendid performances of Les
nuits d’été with Victoria de los Angeles, who is
in superb voice. It doesn’t hinder matters that the sound quality
for this April 1955 performance is top notch. Admirers of the
soprano will rejoice that her performance of La demoiselle
élue is equally elevated. Indeed this brace of performances
reveals her to be a consummate musician and a great communicative
artist. The disc is rounded off with Roussel’s Suite in F,
first performed in the city by Koussevitzky back in 1926. This
is a work that certainly suited Munch’s tempestuous side, his
bustly temperament responding well to its demands. He did record
it, twice in fact, but not in Boston.
He never recorded Jeux though, which we have in a 1958
performance. The winds are elegant, strings lissom, the ethos
just right timbrally, though there are a few metrical dislocations
that might jar on repeated listening. One would expect La
Mer in a collection of this kind and we are duly not disappointed
to find this October 1958 broadcast. He’d recorded it first
in 1942 and always managed to evoke a strong and passionate
atmosphere. Iberia is full of sinuous colour and rhythmic
sway; Gigues, often performed separately, joins it in
this 1957 programme. The fourth CD is a mainly Ravel one. Valses
nobles et sentimentales receives a good performance though
his commercial recording in Philadelphia was better etched.
La Valse follows straight on, brilliantly controlled.
The Rapsodie espagnole is equally pungent and attractive.
The big novelty in this disc however is Milhaud’s delightfully
unproblematic and hugely entertaining Sixth Symphony,
which Munch didn’t record.
The brooding, intense superstructure of Franck’s Symphony
is well realised in this 1957 performance which flickers and
roars with life. It’s followed by d’Indy’s Symphony in G
Major on a French Mountain Air, with Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer,
Munch’s niece, as pianist, an evocatively realised affair. She
reappears in the last disc, playing Ravel’s Concerto in G
major in March 1958. Some might think this is superfluous
to requirements given that she and Munch recorded it twice in
the studio, but the frisson of a live concert invariably brings
a greater sense of intensity or introspection. I like this one
very much indeed for those very reasons. The last piece is Fauré’s
Requiem. The soloists are Adele Addison and Donald Gramm.
This is a major lacuna in the Munch discography, deriving from
a February 1956 performance. The performance will divide opinion.
It’s a grand, rather extensive view of the work and as a result
some will find it insufficiently rhythmic. Yet others may well
be impressed by its solid piety. I happen to find it a bit overdone,
but nevertheless an important document for its rarity value.
There is an excellent booklet with extensive documentary essay
by James Miller. The transfers are by Lani Spahr, whose work
I invariably trust and admire. There’s something here even for
those with an extensive collection of Munch’s recordings. The
previously unreleased items are the obvious draw, but even the
duplications from the studio discography are still important.
This is another in the long line of excellent sets from WHRA.