Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Masonic Funeral Music K477/479a
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
rec. Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, 1958-59
Menus; English, Picture format 4:3, Region Code 0, DVD format NTSC,
Sound Ambient Mastering. Black and White.
ICA CLASSICS ICAD 5039
There should be really a collective noun for the plethora of
WGBH telecasts featuring Charles Munch now emerging on ICA Classics.
The series, covering the years 1958-60 and largely taped at
Harvard, has proved highly impressive, albeit sometimes interpretatively
inconsistent – and occasionally unreliable in filmic terms.
This one focuses on two Mendelssohn Symphonies. The Scottish
was taped in December 1959 and is of good quality. As is often
the case in this series the camera panning shots are sometimes
jerky – I wonder what kind of mount was used, as there is occasionally
slippage during shots. Clearly editorial work went into the
chosen shots but again things didn’t always go right on the
night; it’s fine to concentrate on the hard working percussionist,
but only if he’s actually playing – and then playing something
of significance. As often in this series sectional shots are
favoured, though sometimes they are apt to be cumbersome. But
when one sees Munch one observes the rapt concentration that
so often produced an extra quotient of excitement during these
performances. The proximity of the audience must have helped
spark something of that added level of adrenalin. It’s only
late in the symphony that I noticed that, presumably because
of space shortages at the hall, the piano is visible actually
in the body of the orchestra. What was the concerto, one wonders,
and who was the soloist? I commend retrospectively the director,
David M Davis, for managing (almost) to obscure this detail.
The Italian Symphony suffers from a much grainier picture,
though it was recorded only a couple of years or so earlier
in February 1958. This is another feature of the series – varying
quality of footage within discs. It results in some lines running
across the screen. The sound is decent enough mono, but the
visual element lacks the clarity of the Scottish. Shame
though this is, it doesn’t obscure Munch’s vigorous take, almost
Toscaninian in places. The director for this was Whitney Thompson
and he preferred more static shots, bedding the image solidly,
reluctant to keep things moving too much - he was less of a
visual contrapuntalist than Davis. When there are panning shots,
the image degrades somewhat. There are also a couple of poor
edits. Personally, I find this doesn’t matter to me. These are
artefacts of their time. I did wonder, though, if the ‘hair
on the lens’ problem could have been mitigated in post-production
and remastering. Maybe not. It doesn’t last too long, nor do
the smudge marks on the print. I mention these things not to
suggest that you are in for a disastrous viewing, but to make
you aware of the imperfections inherent, or seemingly inherent,
in the production.
We also have a ‘bonus’ of Mozart’s Masonic Funeral Music, from
April 1959. It too is rather grainy. And yet again I wonder
rhetorically how a DVD that lasts 73 minutes can include a ‘bonus’.
Is anyone fooled?
That apart, and with the spirit of caveat emptor in the air
for those unfamiliar with these telecasts, I ought to end by
saying that these Mendelssohn performances are terrific.