Charles Munch conducts a Treasury of French Music
CD 1 [66:39]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Le Corsaire – overture [8:58]
Beatrice and Benedict – overture [8:01]
Harold in Italy Op.16 [38:22]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Introduction and Allegro for flute, clarinet, harp and string quartet (1905) [11:13]
CD 2 [64:35]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Les nuits d’été Op.7 (1840-41) [29:03]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La demoiselle élue [20:48]
Albert ROUSSEL (1868-1937)
Suite in F Op.33 (1926)[14:16]
CD 3 [79:12]
Jeux (Poème Dansé) (1912) [18:48]
La Mer (1903-5) [23:40]
Trois Images pour orchestre (1905-12) - Gigues [7:14]
Ibéria (1905) [29:24]
CD 4 [68:37]
Maurice RAVEL
Valses nobles et sentimentales (1912) [17:24]
La Valse (1920)
Rapsodie espagnole (1907-08) [16:26]
Darius MILHAUD (1892-1974)
Symphony No.6 Op.343 (1955) [23:45]
CD 5 [64:29]
César FRANCK (1822-1890)
Symphony in D minor (1886-8) [38:51]
Vincent D’INDY (1851-1931)
Symphony in G Major on a French Mountain Air, ‘Cévenole’ for piano and orchestra Op.25 [25:21]
CD 6 [66:53]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Piano Concerto in G major (1931) [23:31]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924) Requiem Op.48 (1887-93) [43:15]
Joseph de Pasquale (viola) – Harold in Italy
Victoria de los Angeles (soprano) - Les nuits d’été
Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer (piano) – d’Indy, Ravel
Adele Addison (soprano); Donald Gramm (bass baritone); Radcliffe Choral Society; Harvard Glee Club – Fauré
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
rec. 1954-58 , Boston
WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA-6027 [6 CDs: 66:39 + 64:35 + 79:12 + 68:37 + 64:29 + 66:53]

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 tonalist.

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.

Jonathan Woolf

There’s something here even for those with an extensive collection of Munch’s recordings. The previously unreleased items are the obvious draw.