Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Symphony No. 8 in D Minor (1953-55) [29:08]
Maurice RAVEL (1883-1937)
Piano Concerto in G (1929-31) [21:45]
Vincent D’INDY (1851-1931)
Symphony on a French Mountain Air (1886) [25:31]
Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer (piano)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
rec. live, 2 August 1958, Music Shed, Tanglewood, Mass. (Vaughan Williams); 28 March 1958, no venue specified (Ravel and D’Indy)
PRISTINE AUDIO PASC 368 [76:25]
Pristine is well-known for vastly improving the sound on many famous or rare historical recordings, most of them in monaural sound. This new disc is a little bit of a departure in that all of the recordings are in stereo sound - two from a 1958 RCA disc (issued as RCA LSC-2271/here derived from audiophile Classic Records LSC-2271-45) and one a never-before released radio broadcast from the same year. All feature Charles Munch and the Boston Symphony at their best heard in recording quality such as could only be dreamed of back then.
Pristine’s overriding goal is deriving the utmost sonic verisimilitude from old originals. On this disc that goal is most perfectly accomplished with the Ravel Piano Concerto. Allowing for some sharpness on the high notes, listening to this recording after the Pristine “treatment” is like being in the studio at the time of the original recording. As to performance, Nicole Henriot-Schweitzer’s version was always among the most poetic and this quality is the more striking now. Henriot-Schweitzer was the niece and frequent musical partner of Munch; their musical and familial closeness is obvious in these recordings. Munch leads the BSO with his usual tight control, but with more energy than is sometimes apparent and brings out wonderful chamber-music clarity from the winds.
The BSO winds are equally in evidence and equally fine in the D'Indy Symphony on a French Mountain Air, although the strings are somewhat muddy and the percussion a little too forceful. Whether this is due to the original engineers or those at Pristine I cannot say. Henriot-Schweitzer’s playing is extremely energetic here, especially in the last movement. Munch’s tempi are a little more metronomic than in the Ravel, but he still generates plenty of excitement.
Aside from the obvious - Vaughan Williams played by a French conductor and an American orchestra - this version of the Symphony No. 8 is interesting both because the Pristine audio magic is just as effective on this radio broadcast as on the studio recordings and because this is the first release of the broadcast. Most important, Munch delivers a very idiomatic performance of the Eighth that can stand with more traditional ones. His first movement shows an excellent grasp of the unusual structure, though with some lapses of phrasing. His tempi are more thoughtful than in many other performances. Munch’s rhythmic sense is even more evident in the scherzo where the BSO winds are again prominent. Unfortunately, Munch seems confused in the slow movement, turning in a diffuse rendition. Things recover in the last movement with every “spiel and gong” to quote the composer coming through quite distinctly and with an emotional coda the equal of any other on record.
None of the performances on this disc would serve as a primary recording in one’s music library, as, even with Pristine’s ministrations, recording quality has come a long way since 1958, but each can serve as a supplemental version and need yield to nothing in terms of quality of performance.
Major performances by Munch and the Boston Symphony from 1958 - recording quality such as could only be dreamed of back then.
Vaughan Williams review index: Symphonies